Saturday, November 3, 2007

Something’s missing in ‘Holes’ production

published in The News Tribune, Nov. 2, 2007

Louis Sachar’s novel “Holes” earned an impressive number of prestigious awards when it was first published in 1998, including the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award and Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. But somehow between the novel, the Disney movie and the play (also written by Sachar), something seems to have been lost.

As seen at Lakewood Playhouse, the stage version has elements of allegory, myth, folk tale and morality play. Tying together the various back stories requires so much necessary exposition that character development gets shortchanged. Other than the two principal teenage characters – Stanley Yelnats IV (Henry Walker) and Zero (Joseph Allegro), most of the main characters come across as one-dimensional cardboard cutouts.

Scott C. Brown, easily one of the best dramatic actors working in the South Sound region, plays the duel roles of Mr. Sir and the sheriff, both of whom are nasty caricatures of every bad lawman in every bad Western (or Southern) movie ever made. He’s like the warden in “Cool Hand Luke” without any imagination. And Christie Flynn, who shows sparks of real dramatic flair in her role as the warden, is like Annie Oakley minus her charm and humor. These fine actors are wasted in these roles.

There is an ensemble cast of teenage boys who are equally one-dimensional, and some of them do an admirable job of acting despite having little to work with. Most notable among them are Alex Domine as Armpit and Lex Gernon as Zig Zag. Domine reeks of attitude with his smirks and lumbering gestures, and Gernon has an outrageous laugh that I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying.

The cascade of flat characters is relieved when Jeff Brown as Sam and Ronee Collins as Kissing Kate take the stage. Sam and Kissing Kate are characters in a flashback story that parallels and sets the stage for the main story. Their story is set in the late 1800s. Sam is an onion farmer whose onions have miraculous curative properties, and Kate is a sweet schoolmarm who falls in love with him. But he is black, and she is white, and interracial romance was not tolerated then. The racial injustice inflicted on them sets sweet Kate on the path to become the infamous outlaw Kissing Kate. (How this story relates to the story of Stanley Yelnats becomes clear at the end of the play.)

The only other well-rounded characters are Stanley and Zero, and Walker and Allegro play these characters with sympathy. They are both completely believable.

Stanley is falsely accused of stealing when sneakers belonging to legendary sports figure Clyde “Sweetfeet” Livingston fall on him from a freeway overpass. Stanley hardly puts up a fight in court because he thinks he’s doomed to bad luck, which he blames on a family curse brought about by his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.”

Stanley is sent to Camp Greenlake, a desert detention camp for juvenile offenders where each of the boys is forced to dig a 5-by-5-foot hole in the desert every day. The other boys in the camp are mostly bullies, with Armpit being the leader and Zero being the butt of most of their bullying. Stanley befriends Zero, who is illiterate, and teaches him to read and write. In return, Zero relieves Stanley of a good portion of his hole-digging chore.

Eventually, Zero runs away from the camp and almost dies in the desert until Stanley saves him – which is where the miraculous onions re-enter the story.

Lighting and set designer Scott Campbell designs the perfect set for this show: two large holes in risers upstage left and right and five symbolic holes created by spotlights on the main stage area. Campbell is a master of minimalism, and an abstract and minimalist set is just what’s needed to both create the bleak atmosphere of a desert camp and eliminate set changes that would have been too distracting.

“Holes” is a good story for a young adult audience, but I don’t think it translates well to the stage.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 11
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $11.50-$19.50
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

No comments: