Maddie Gaughan & Annie Weible in John Lennon and Me. Photo courtesy of Stage One.
John Lennon and Me
By Cherie Bennett
Directed by Andrew Harris
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2017 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Crushes, new friends, fitting in and popularity…these are pretty typical experiences for kids on the brink of their teenage years. They are standard rites of passage for every teen, no matter what their background or health condition. In StageOne Family Theater’s current production of John Lennon and Me, a young girl comes of age with tenacity as she suffers from cystic fibrosis and witnesses her friends suffer as well.
With a cast of mostly high school aged actors, this production is an honest, touching and funny reminder of what it’s like to be a kid. The dialogue clips along with each giddy exchange about boys and worried buzz about what the kids at school will think. As Stella “Star” Grubner, Annie Weible (double cast with Ava Duvall) settles nicely into the carefree and extraordinary girl who is obsessed with Johnny Depp, The Beatles and boys. Weible’s Star is an exuberant tomboy who puts on a brave face as she lives with her, “…lung thing – no problem.” Her strongest moments come with the help of her Flunkies. This imaginary, sunglass clad, stage crew cheer her on during breathing treatments and dates, providing sight gags and insight to the inner workings of Star’s imagination. Weible truly shines as she basks in her own spotlight, narrating the theatricality of an otherwise tragic treatment of cystic fibrosis. Her performance helps the audience better understand terminal illness; perhaps making something so tragic less harsh and scary.
During her stay in the treatment facility known as Heart House, several characters weave in and out of Stars life. Liz Fentress is intimidating yet firm and caring as Ina “The Torturer” Tortunesky. Fentress dives nose first into the seemingly villainous role and is fun to watch the whole time. Virginia Child’s Nurse Janice is a hoot as the guitar strumming, high-note-hitting nurse with lots of pep. Zachary Burrell’s Doctor Scott is the crush-worthy object of Star’s affection and provides relatable guidance for the young narrator. Colette Delaney as Claudia, Star’s mother is graceful as the wannabe actress who delicately walks the fine line between parent and friend.
Within the confines of the facility, Star makes up an imaginary world for herself, which is quickly shattered, as she becomes friends with the other patients. Courtney, played in this performance by Maddie Gaughan (double cast with Jessica Rogers), is a teddy bear-clutching, mild mannered cheerleader. Gaughan and Weible play well off of each other as their relationship blossoms from nothing-in-common odd couple to life changing best friends. Other notable performances belong to Sarah Blackwell as nosy Sally, Ian Cobb’s awkward yet endearing Tom, and Malik Smith’s tennis star with a sad secret, Jeff.
StageOne Family Theater knows their audience and always has their interest in mind. This production was sweet as it shared wisdom without pandering to its younger patrons. With all its lessons shared and courage proudly displayed, the pacing seemed uneven in parts. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause and pointing fingers would be rude as this is a learning experience for so many young actors. With John Lennon and Me, StageOne has put together yet another moving piece of theater for any age. And, if I may add, the soundtrack is pretty stellar as well.
John Lennon and Me
January 28, February 4, 11 @ 2pm
StageOne Family Theater
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!