HCC troupe plays it for laughs

Play: Passing Thru Playhouse Productions' performances of silly fairy tales for pupils at area schools hits the intended target: kids' funny bones.

Howard Live

April 17, 2003|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Howard Community College's Passing Thru Playhouse Productions (PTPP) is on a mission to bring the art of theater to Howard County schoolchildren, and the group is doing that this year with a presentation of goofy fairy tales guaranteed to tickle the funny bones of the elementary school set.

Sue Kramer, producer and director of HCC's Student-Alumni Arts, which sponsors the group, founded PTPP three years ago to take live theater performances directly to the schools. HCC students and alumni are members of the traveling troupe.

"I felt like it was very important that we ... take the stuff that we do here at HCC in the Student-Alumni Arts, into the schools. ... We want to promote live performance and the magic of reading," she said.

The theater group spends the fall developing and writing its own material, and tours with its production in the spring. HCC students can receive three credit hours for participation.

"You just get together and improvise and develop scenes with your peers, and it's always satisfying to be creative," said founding cast member Janelle Cree, an HCC alumna and a member of this year's cast.

In its first two seasons, PTPP offered its original play, The Hum, a series of nine scenes based on what Kramer called "the life cycle" of humans.

This year's production, Cheesy-Silly Tales, was inspired by author Jon Scieszka's award-winning children's book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.

The cast includes HCC students Ashanti Cooper and Joey Amaral, and two HCC alumnae who are University of Maryland, Baltimore County students - Cree and Melissa Paper.

Each actor plays a variety of characters. Among them: Cooper plays a bewildered chicken and a very slow tortoise. Amaral is a Frankenstein-stepping giant and a crafty frog. Paper plays an ugly stepmother and a beautiful duckling, and Cree is a not-very-reliable fairy godmother and a frog-kissing princess.

Cheesy-Silly Tales premiered at Atholton Elementary School PTA's Family Fun Night late last year.

"The kids just went nuts. ... They were just mesmerized by seeing these college kids perform," said Atholton PTA member Cindy Wascavage, who arranged to bring the theater group to the school. "It's the perfect kind of thing for a PTA to do," she said.

On Friday, the group played the cafeteria stage at Forest Ridge Elementary School for a large group of first-graders who enthusiastically applauded the series of off-kilter fairy tales that had titles such as, "The Really Ugly Duckling," "Little Red Running Shorts," and "The Other Frog Prince."

The actors wore black pants and shirts to which they added brightly colored scarves or hats, worn as needed to suggest the traits of their characters.

As the play began at Forest Ridge, the cafeteria was darkened, thrilling the youngsters, who oohed and aahed as the lights came up on the stage. "It looks pretty," called out one of the children.

Later in the show, another child loudly announced, "He looks so cool," on seeing a crouching Amaral with two green scarves added to his black costume to effect his portrayal of a frog.

The audience clearly enjoyed most of the slapstick elements of the production, laughing loudly and long when an alphabet of rubber letters fell on the head of Chickin' Lickin' and friends, and with happy screams of protest when Cooper asked whether they would like a kiss from the frog who did not turn into a prince after kissing the princess.

The production offered a few bits of humor for adults with references to Howard Cosell, Johns Hopkins and Richard M. Nixon. These jokes, along with a few subtleties of the story line, zipped right past the kids' comprehension.

Interspersed throughout the 30-minute show, the troupe supplied interactive moments in the form of question-and-answer periods, silly dancing ("You guys want to boogey now?") and the occasional piece of advice - "You can do anything you put your mind to. All it takes is hard work."

Kramer said that the group's name was chosen because of its hope to be "passing through" the county schools. Kramer's goal is to perform about a dozen shows each year, at least doubling the gigs the group does now.

She said that Passing Thru Playhouse Productions still has play dates open through June and possibly later for elementary schools, libraries, community centers and other similar groups.

Information: Sue Kramer, 410-772- 4515.

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