Friday, January 10, 1997

Show review: How to Eat Like a Child

Published in the Mountainview

Children of all ages went to the Mt. Abraham Union High School on December 6-8 for the Middlebury Community Players' production of "How to Eat Like a Child (...And other lessons in not being a grown-up)." Twenty-one local children from 6 Addison County towns, from ages 8 to 14 performed the play, a series of 25 lessons on living life childishly.

While the audience filed in, filling about one-third of the Mt. Abraham UHS auditorium on Sunday afternoon, local youth band Eclypse played a section of jazz and rock covers with great skill and aplomb.

The lights dimmed, and the company arranged themselves on stage to deliver the opening number, "Like a Child." They offered to reveal secrets children everywhere keep from adults, if we promised not to tell anyone what we saw or heard. The children in the audience (young and old) laughed along with the fun, and were impressed with the singing, acting, and choreography.

The scene changes were indicated by a sign on the side of the stage, to identify which lesson the audience was now learning. The two girls in charge of changing this sign and announcing the new lesson did so in a particularly childlike manner, squabbling, bossing each other around, and teasing each other lightly.

Many different types of lessons were taught, from "how to stay home from school," a fruitless attempt by three girls to feign illness and skip school for a day, to "how to understand your parents," in which everything parents say is translated into kid-speak as "No." Celebratory lessons about walking home from school, and begging parents for a dog, were poignant and amusing, with genuine portrayals by the actors, who no doubt feel life's simple pleasures are important.

Especially noteworthy were a few skits which were largely solo performances: "how to deal with injustice," sung by Elisa Schine (age 11, of Middlebury) with wonderful expression, projection, and melody; "how to wait," sung by Rini Lovshin-Smith (age 11, of Middlebury) with just the right mix of loneliness and eagerness; "how to look forward to your birthday," sung by Eliza Murawski (age 11, of Shoreham), a song which was funny and touching at the same time, pointing out that the best part of a birthday is "when Mom and Dad tell me they're glad I was born" - a lesson no parent should ever forget.

Each of the children was given a major role in one or more of the lessons, an opportunity for each of them to get time on center stage, and a chance for the audience to see the talents of each performer. There was a uniformly high quality of performance throughout the show, and while some people got a bit more stage time than others, every performance was delightful and entertaining. Indeed, director Barbara Harding, of Cornwall, said that sixty children auditioned for the 15 available parts in the show. Twenty-one were case, because of the quality of their performances: "We just couldn't cut them," Harding said.

The last lesson, "how to go to bed," featured all of the cast members trying to stay awake as long as possible without waking "Dad," played by a rumpled and tousled Buck Sleeper (age 13, of Cornwall). As expected, even Cliff Burnham (age 11, of Cornwall) eventually collapsed into slumber while murmuring, "I refuse to fall asleep."

Congratulations are also in order to the adults who directed, stage-managed, and otherwise assisted in the production. No doubt they learned better than the audience that children look at the world through different eyes, and live lives we can all smile at.

The Middlebury Community Players are a group of local actors and actresses of all ages who perform various pieces throughout the year. "How to Eat Like a Child" will be performed again in the spring at the Middlebury Union High School. Keep your eyes open for publicity and posters! The Community Players' next production will be their spring musical, "Follies" by Stephen Sondheim.