Monday, May 18, 2015

Ramona Quimby—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Growing Pains

This family production is written by Northwest native, Beverly Cleary and based on her “Ramona” series of books.  It is adapted for the stage by Len Jenkin and directed by Elizabeth Richard (sign interpreted for this show by Don Coates).  It is playing through May 31st at the Newmark theatre, 1111 SW Broadway.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

The above statement might explain why Ramona is commonly considered a pest.  Time passes so s-l-o-w-l-y when you’re a child and then goes too >> when you’re an adult.  Go figure.  So time in the 3rd grade must feel like a prison and your parents and teachers, the jailers.  But, somehow, things work out in the end.  As Ramona’s older sister, Beezus says, “People live here and sometimes they’re happy, and sometimes sad, with all their small everyday adventures—and their life goes on—in a kind of miraculous way.”  So true, so true.

Cleary herself spent some time as a child on Klickitat Street in Portland and so these memories are based on that neighborhood and her time as a child.  The play is narrated by the elder sister, Beezus (Annabel Cantor), who definitely has a biased view of Ramona (Steele Clevenger).  It seems that Ramona is always getting in trouble at home, like putting toys in the oven, fighting with her sister and generally trying to rule the roost.

Her mother, Dorothy (Kymberli Colbourne), seems a decent sort, trying to keep the home in order for her children and her husband, Bob (Rick Huddle), who works in a frozen food warehouse run by Mr. Frost (Darrell Salk).  But Ramona seems more at ease with her Aunt Bee (Tiffany Groben) and longs to live with her.  But this is not to be, as Bee becomes attached to the next door neighbor’s son, Hobart (James Sharinghousen), and so she has less time for Ramona.

School doesn’t seem to cut her any breaks, either.  Granted, she does have her best friend, Howie (Iain Campbell Demarest) in the same classes but the teacher, Mrs. Griggs (Paige Jones) seems to hate her and the teacher’s pet, Susan (Bella Freeman-Moule), gets all the attention.  Life just doesn’t seem fair and it isn’t fair, according to Ramona.  But Time has a way of making things better, as she discovers.

The story may seem slight to adults but I’m sure it rings true for young people.  Of course, nowadays, childhood is a much more complicated place with social media, bullying, drugs, gangs, school shootings, et. al.  But a couple things this play points out that are still relevant, is the fact that losing one’s job and having to deal with a reduced income can still have a devastating effect on a family.  And smoking is still a major problem with parents and youth.  I remember when my sister asked my Dad to quit smoking and he promised he would if she would never start.  And it worked.

The performers are all very competent, with Jones and Sharinghousen having appeared in many other productions around the area and always being good, as they are here, also.  Clevenger as the “brat” is, quite appropriately, annoying to the point of being like long fingernails on a chalkboard.  Impressive little actor.  And Cantor has an assurance in her role that is very much adult in application.  Especially in the narrative parts, which are never easy to make interesting.  But she does engage the audience quite nicely and makes you want to listen to her.  I look forward to seeing both of these young ladies again onstage.  Richard has done a good job of keeping things moving and making the scenes interesting.

I recommend this show.  (A side note, it’s never easy to find parking downtown, so plan your time accordingly.)  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.