Nicholas Hulstine, Cami Glauser, Keith McGill, & Ashley Wallace. Photo: Stage One
Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing
Based on the book by Judy Blume
Adapted by Bruce Mason
Directed by Paul Kerr
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I know most all theatre companies dream of a regular performance venue, preferably one that is permanent – a home. The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts has been home base for Stage One Family Theatre for many years, but construction during weekday hours following the fire last fall has forced them to find other environs for their last two productions, so Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing is being presented inside the venerable Memorial Auditorium. I somehow have never found myself inside of this building, which, with its Neo-classical grandeur has a very pleasing, old school vibe, but I like the idea that Stage One is on the move into different Louisville neighborhoods. The final production of the current season, The True Story of The Three Little Pigs, will take up residence at The Brown Theatre in April.
Judy Blume’s classic story about nine-year-old Peter Hatcher’s struggle to gain prominence in the shadow of his younger, highly precocious brother, “Fudge” resonates with anyone who ever had a sibling, and the stage adaptation ramps up the slapstick humor with a broad lens that shows all of the action from Peter’s perspective. Remember how the world looked when you were that age? Did you ever encounter adults who approach children with overbearing obsequiousness? How many times did you believe that your bratty little brother or sister had ruined your life?
There is not much of a plot here, and the episodic structure lacks a proper climax, but the observations all ring true, even if our own memories never seem quite so colorful and over-the-top as Peter’s. That there are such prominent quotation marks around the action designates this as a show pitched to an audience of children, but I typically find that the overemphasis allows a satirical spin for adults in the audience. So if you find yourself chaperoning a group of youngsters to Stage One, don’t tune out – you may miss out on all of the fun.
An adult portraying a kid can be an easy trap for an actor, but Nicholas Hulstine lends Peter the necessary exasperation and naivete but also peppers the characterization with a knowing, grown-up sensibility. We are watching Peter experience life at age 9 but also remembering his childhood from a later period in his life. Ashley Wallace as “Fudge” is arguably the most out-sized performance, and that is necessary to establish Peter’s dilemma in being constantly over-shadowed. Clara Harris gives Wallace good competition in comic histrionics with an epic pre-adolescent meltdown, although I preferred her preciously unctuous Mrs.Yarby.
The remaining ensemble members play multiple roles with varying degrees of archness and subtlety, and an extended scene of Fudge’s third birthday party is a hoot and a half of adult actors enacting childish tantrums and other foolishness. Does a scene like that trigger enough introspection in a child so that they might question their own behavior and “learn their lesson”? I daresay many parents in the audience are hoping for exactly that.
Featuring: Donato Cucinotta, Cami Glauser, Clara Harris, Nicholas Hulstine, Keith McGill, Ashley Wallace, and Jack Wallen
Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing
Public show dates: January 24 & 31* @ 7:00 pm
Stage One Family Theater
Louisville Memorial Auditorium
970 South Fourth Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.