Fun House Theatre and Film
Director - Jeff Swearingen
Set Design - Clare Floyd DeVries
Costumes - Bren Rapp
Tech Design - Brandon Cunningham and Bren Rapp
Prop Master - Doak Campbell Rapp
Stella - Piper Cunningham
Stanley - Alex Duva
Blanche - Zoe Smithey
Mitch - Joseph Nativi
Eunice - Lauren Burgess
Schoolkids - Alina Melcer, Charlotte Foree, Connor Schlegel, Elliott Cooper, Grace Elizabeth Canter, Haley Brooke Newton, Matt Howe, Natalie Nobel, Samantha Stratton
Ms. Monroe - Laney Neumann
Pearl Dubois - Taylor Donnelson
Forest Dubois - Jeremy LaBlanc
Dale Kowalski - Doak Campbell Rapp
Kelly Kowalski - Zoe Grafrath
Goodwin Longfellow - Brian Wright
Robert Dubois - Tex Patrello
Nurse - Karina Cunningham
With Lijah Barerra as Little Lijah
Reviewed Performance 8/15/2015
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
When I review shows, I normally wait until the end to give my overall opinion with a suggestion to see the show or not. A Schoolbus Named Desire at Fun House Theatre and Film is such an outstanding production that I will say it in the first paragraph – this one is a must-see! If you read nothing more of this review, pick up your phone or point your browser to the theatre website and purchase your tickets right now because this show is exceptional.
With all of that said, I’ll go into a little more detail about the reasons I was so impressed with this show. A Schoolbus Named Desire is an adaptation of the play by renowned American playwright, Tennessee Williams, entitled A Streetcar Named Desire. The original play, written in 1947 received a Pulitzer Prize, appeared on Broadway over the course of two years, and was adapted into an Academy Award winning movie starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh.
Fun House Theatre and Film’s Bren Rapp envisioned an adaptation bringing the dark drama of Streetcar into a kindergarten classroom. Jeff Swearingen created a script that is reminiscent of the Williams’ original, yet beautifully transformed with modern-day references and childish fun. The dialogue flowed naturally. The young actors who were tasked with bringing it to life performed with experience, defying their age. Each of these young performers represent a promise to the future of theater with their well-developed skills and impeccable timing.
The original story brings an aging southern belle, Blanche Dubois, to New Orleans to live in a small apartment with her younger sister, Stella and her abusive husband, Stanley after the loss of their childhood home. The reimagined story has Blanche attending kindergarten in a new school where her cousin, Stella, attends. Several adult situations which have been transformed to fit the lives of the young characters. For example, the childhood home in Streetcar is a treehouse in Schoolbus and a husband who committed suicide in Streetcar are hamsters who may have met their demise at the hands of Blanche in Schoolbus. All of the changes made sense to the new situation, yet held on to much of the imagery and meaning of the original script.
The evening was filled with laughter from the audience. From the southern drawl of Blanche, adorably played by Zoe Smithey, to the emotional cries of “Stella” from Stanley, portrayed by Alex Duva, those familiar with Williams’ story will find a deep humor. I sat next to an audience member who had never seen or heard of A Streetcar Named Desire. Her laughter throughout the performance revealed that even if this is one’s first experience with the story, there is much to laugh at and true entertainment is at hand.
The set is on a proscenium stage and comprised entirely of the various centers of a kindergarten classroom. Doak Campbell Rapp, as props master, accumulated the artifacts that one would expect to see in a kindergarten classroom. Set designer Clare Floyd DeVries created an atmosphere which was bright in color enough to be believable as a kindergarten classroom, yet dark and worn enough to generate the overall depressed imagery of Williams’ intent. With various play stations, including a large slide and carpet painted on the floor, the actors had ample opportunities to roam the stage and portray their characters within the confines of their school experience. The floor in front of the stage was brilliantly utilized as a sidewalk and playground when the action dictated.
Tech design by Brandon Cunningham and Bren Rapp was mainly limited to lighting design. In this, I was slightly disappointed, as the lighting on stage during the entirety of the show was static – the classroom was bathed in light except for the edges, which sometimes put the performers in a dim area. When the floor in front of the stage was used, lights were turned on behind the audience which gave the impression that it was time for intermission before the actors came into view.
Costuming by Bren Rapp was appropriate for the age of the characters. Although the play takes place over several days, the children and their teacher never changed their clothes. This is a fine detail that would have made the production even more impressive, had the children had a few more togs to don. Blanche wore a pretty, filmy pink dress accessorized with a long strand of pearls. Stella donned a blue, practical jumper throughout the action. Stanley was seen in khaki pants and a t-shirt, more appropriate to Stanley’s age than Brando’s signature A-shirt.
There were several very impressive performances. My favorite was that of Smithey. Her performance suggested a southern belle attitude and poise. The drawl she used to deliver her lines was impeccable and never faltered. It was as if she were channeling Leigh’s Scarlett, from Gone with the Wind, throughout the performance. Smithey waltzed across the stage as if on air. Her demure glances and broad flourishes melted my heart and aptly portrayed a flirtatious and manipulating, yet disturbed, Blanche. Even through lengthy monologues, Smithey’s performance never wavered.
The role of Stanley, as portrayed by Duva, was perfectly delivered with angry eyes, clenched fists, and guttural, explosive bursts of rage. Duva’s cries of “Stella!”’ mimicked Brando and added many laughs for an already entertained audience. As each new interaction with Blanche unfolded, Duva maintained the image of a bully by stomping across the stage, grabbing his hair or head with his hands, and spitting out orders to his peers.
The trio of Blanche, Stanley, and Stella was rounded out by Piper Cunningham. Her calm demeanor and matter-of-fact delivery was exactly what the character called for. With each bright smile and shrug of her shoulders, Cunningham portrayed the level-headed Stella with expertise.
The entire ensemble performed beautifully together. Director, Jeff Swearingen, not only brought together a talented group of young people, he also managed to guide them into a strong and well-practiced performance. Of especial note was the youngest of the cast, Lijah Barerra, who performed with an experience belying his age when an accidental mishap tore his costume and he continued his performance with nearly no indication that anything had happened. This ability to go on with the show is something even actors with a several shows in their experience have difficulty with and this was Lijah’s first foray into theater.
Fun House Theatre and Film was a unique experience. Although performed by children, the content of the performance was often of a more adult nature. The performances far exceed what would be expected of a young cast. The writing of the script is deserving of notice to the theater community as a whole. I already said it in the first paragraph – get your tickets now!
A SCHOOLBUS NAMED DESIRE
Fun House Theatre and Film at the Plano Children's Theater, 1301 Custer Road, Plano, Texas
Runs through August 22nd
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $8 for info & tix visit www.funhousetheatreandfilm.com or call the box office at 972-357-5092.