No child left behind!

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

Adapted by John Olive from Louis Sachar's Wayside School novels
Directed by Laura Stevens
Manhattan Children's Theatre
52 White Street (first floor;; 212/352-3101)
Non-union production (closes Nov. 6)
Review by Deborah S Greenhut

Good teaching has certainly fallen by the -- er -- wayside -- in this school, and the children have been left behind under the evil spell of one wicked Mrs. Gorp, played with relish by Rachel Soll in this captivating production directed by Laura Stevens in Manhattan Children’s Theatre’s terrific new home between Broadway and Church Streets in Lower Manhattan. In this comfortable new location, the theatre’s looonnnnng flight of stairs has been replaced by a delightful drama about a school that was accidentally built 30 stories high instead of 20 classrooms wide. MCT’s new home maintains the intimacy of the former theatre with its comfortable, bench-style bleachers, while affording a flexible conventional stage.

The young cast, including Bebe, the “fastest draw” (Anna Kull), never-stop-smiling Dameon (Tim Langdon), the unfortunately stuck Myron (Brian Patrick Murphy), backwards-writing Leslie (Allison Jill Posner), and toothy Rondi (Sunny Naughton), played their roles with heart, each illustrating a quality that came in handy for survival. Mrs. Gorp’s reign of terror was halted by an ill-timed look in the mirror that led to her transformation and the appearance of a new teacher, Mrs. Jewels (Chelsea Palano), though her career was also short-lived. Soll returned in many guises, including the smelly Sammy, and two other replacement teachers, Miss Valoosh and even the milquetoast Mr. Gorp.

Dramatic lighting (Stephen Arnold) coupled with startling sound (Bart Fasbender) and well-designed costumes (Cully Long) provided effective punctuation for the play’s many transitions between internal monologs and dramatic incidents. These effects transcended the occasionally episodic quality of Olive’s script. Special kudos to Stevens for choreographing an excellent tornado sequence in this twisted schoolroom.

The young spectators enjoyed this school in need of many improvements, where teachers turned students into apples, computers were thrown out of the window, and some people stoodd on their heads to read. As the agent of transformation John K. Kucher (Louis and Mr. Pickle) fearlessly undertook everything from eating gorp (yes!) to hypnotizing the guilt-ridden Myron. If you’ve already graduated, you can thank your lucky stars you’ve escaped while you laugh all the way to recess, happily on the first floor.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2005 Deborah S Greenhut