Based on the first of Gertrude Chandler Warner’s classic
series of books, this stage adaptation by Barbara Fields is set during The
Great Depression when four young children, suddenly orphaned in a tragic
boating accident, rely on their own resources to survive and stay together.
Portland’s professional theatre company Oregon Children’s
Theatre is putting this on in the downtown’s Keller Auditorium, a great venue
with manmade waterfalls outside where children can play (in major use the sunny
weekend I was there). A huge model train is set up in the lobby, drawing kids
and adults into the story even before the show begins, as does some twangy
bluegrass pre-show music by a three-piece band in the corner of the stage,
performed by characters in the show who make up their own little Hooverville as
a makeshift family trying to survive the Depression.
The show itself is led by four local youth performers.
Fourteen-year-old Hope Landsem is the practical-minded Jessie intent on
giving her family the best chance at survival. Stephen Ketch is her twin
brother Henry who sees their new lives on the run as a sort of adventure that
must be won. He comforts and amuses the others by calling their first two campsites
the “Ditch Hotel” and the “Spruce Tree Inn.” Together the two eldest try to act
as the guardians of their younger siblings.
A magnificent young acting talent by the name of Madeleine
Rogers is Violet whose palpable sensitivity and care for the others,
evident every moment in her voice, facial expressions, and body language, add
so much of the emotion to the play. Coleman Gariety is the youngest,
Benny, who has the impractical sense to go back home and get his stuffed dog
and photos of their parents – memories of home to get them through the rough
The adults in the cast include Joe Bolenbaugh as Dr.
Samuel Truman, an amiable guy who hires Henry to mow his grass, then becomes
intrigued by his mysterious family life. Rebecca Kimball gives a good
turn as Samuel’s intrusive mother. And Dani Baldwin is most impressive
as Sarah Calder who blames herself for the kids running off. Her large heart
and concern for the children’s welfare is beautifully portrayed.
Director Stan Foote’s show features good
production values with a pleasant boxcar set in the middle of a forest (set
design by Glenn Gauer). The short adaptation, not much more than an hour
long but consisting of a considerable amount of scenes, often feels rushed. You
get the sense that the grief and fear the children must feel could be better
developed with more time, leading to an even more compelling conclusion. But
it’s still an enjoyable hour that seems to hold the interest of the younger
members of the audience, leaving them with some good messages about family,
community, and empowering yourself even when all seems lost.
Performs April 22 - 29, 2007.
National Youth Theatre
~ Cast ~
Sarah Calder: Dani Baldwin
Dr. Samuel Truman: Joe Bolenbaugh
Benny: Coleman Gariety
Big Mike: Jeffrey Jason Gilpin
The Kid: Macklin Kelly
Henry: Stephen Ketch
Mrs. Alberts, Mrs. Truman, Bakery Woman: Rebecca Kimball
Mr. Alden, Officer Banning: Alan H. King
Jessie: Hope Landsem
Cookie: Lisa Marsicek
Violet: Madeleine Rogers
Director: Stan Foote
Scenic Design: Glenn Gauer
Lighting Design: Mark LaPierre
Sound Design: Rodolfo Ortega
Costume Design: Margaret Louise Chapman
Prop Master: R. Dee
Stage Manager: Ann Moore