Monday, March 21, 2011

A Classic Look At Bullying Brought to the Stage

First Stage Childrens Theatre brings THE HUNDRED DRESSES to life

By Russ Bickerstaff
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For all the attention its gotten lately, bullying has been around for a very, very long time. The recent string of suicides has brought attention to a problem that has been so common for so long that most people simply think of it as being a natural part of growing up.

An early look at the nature of bullying, Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses tells the story of a young Polish-American girl who gets picked-on in school. Her otherwise kind teacher puts her in the worst seat in class. The teacher does not speak-up to help her when her classmates tease her. Though she wears a faded blue dress, the girl (named Wanda Petronski) claims to have one hundred dresses at home all lined-up in her closet. He school clothes being in a dreadful state, her classmates don’t believe her.

The 1944 children’s book is brought to life late this March in a First Stage production. Chicago Children’s Theatre recently adapted the book into a musical. As interesting as that sounds, I can’t help but get the feeling that a musical version of the story would lose some of the impact. First Stage’s adaptation is written by Mary Hall Surface. Previous productions of the script have been praised for showing an unpolished, unexaggerated depiction of that fear of the unknown that all kids should learn to identify at a very early age. Mixing the subtlety of that with the potent theatricality of emotion found in a traditional music would dilute it far too much to be effective.

The First Stage production of Surface’s script is directed by longtime First Stage collaborator John Maclay. Adult actors include Mary MacDonald Kerr, Bo Johnson, Sheri Williams-Pannel.

First Stage Children’s Theatre’s production of The Hundred Dresses runs March 25th – April 16th at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theatre. For reservations, call 414-273-7206.

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