Playwright: By Louis Sachar
Director: Naarah McDonald
Producer: Lakewood Playhouse
Dates: Oc 19 – Nov 11, 2007

Something’s missing in ‘Holes’ production
ALEC CLAYTON – Tacoma News Tribune
Nov 2, 2008

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.

“Holes” has very few gaps – Here’s the dirt on lakewood’s latest play
Oct 25, 2007

Pictured: Henry Walker as Stanley Yelnats IV and Scott C. Brown as Mr. Sir. Photos by Dean Lapin

Pictured: Henry Walker as Stanley Yelnats IV and Scott C. Brown as Mr. Sir. Photos by Dean Lapin

I must be honest. I was a little worried about “Holes” when I first saw the stage.

In an effort for full disclosure, I’ll give you the full story: My daughter is showing signs of liking being on the stage as much as she does watching shows, so she auditioned for “Sound of Music” at Lakewood Playhouse earlier this year. She didn’t get the part, but I thought — being the compassionate dad I am — that she would find comfort in working backstage on the show. Lakewood Playhouse is the closest theater to my house, so that seemed the most practical although she has already participated in theater programs at Tacoma Little Theatre and Metro Parks.

Anyway, I signed her up to be an usher at the next Lakewood show as a way to introduce her to all of the other jobs associated with putting on a show in hopes that she would find something that interests her. So after a shift of vacuuming the theater lobby, folding programs and tearing tickets before the show, I put on my reviewer hat with my wide-eyed thespian by my side.

We had talked about the show on our drive to the theater. We had seen Disney’s movie version of the show and wondered out loud how the director was going to stage scenes of digging holes in a dry lake bed when the floor was solid concrete. And then there were the flashbacks that peppered the show, drawing viewers from modern times to the Old West and back again. It seemed like the director faced some staging challenges, my daughter and I thought. Such discussions beforehand always make for good car rides home since we end up talking about our expectations and the reality of the director’s vision.

Anyway, a red flag sprung up in my head when we took our seats and scanned the stage only to find the scene of a dry lake bed on the floor. There was not a grain of sand to be found.
I know staging a show with sand is troublesome. But Lakewood had done it for “To Gillian, on Her 37th Birthday” a few years ago, so I knew it could be done — although I’m sure custodians are still sweeping up sand from time to time. It just seems that having a sandbox with a few feet of dirt in it would have added a lot to the show. But alas, it was not to be. It wasn’t a fatal flaw, but it would have added so much.

The staging was minimalist to say the least; theater in the round has to be thus most of the time or otherwise risk blocking the view of someone in the seats. But there were a few great touches that made up for the few props and scenes. The fact that real water flowed from a watering hose at this corrupt boys detention facility in Texas was a nice touch — even if it accidentally sprayed on some of the audience members.

Standout performances of the mostly youth show are Henry Walker (Artistic Director Marcus Walker’s son) in the lead role of Stanley and Joseph Allegro as Zero. Standout performances from people who can vote are Scott C. Brown as Mr. Sir and Christie Flynn as the warden, who is hell-bent on getting the treasure that is buried somewhere in the desert.

Winners of the small roles don’t mean small actors are Jeffery Brown, whose brief performance as an onion peddler was simply magic, and Ronee Collins as the pioneer school teacher turned outlaw Kissing Kate Barlow. Her scene with Brown held the show together.

There were also some misfires in the show. Blake York, whom I’ve noted for his great work on “The Nerd” and “The Laramie Project,.“ But this timeone shot only blanks. He plays Mr. Pendanski, a camp counselor at the shovel-friendly detention facility. I couldn’t tell if he was a do-gooder, a villain or a mix of both because his delivery of key lines suggested all of the above.

Young actors make ‘Holes’ charming
MATT NAGLE – Tacoma Weekly
Oct 25, 2007

Lakewood Playhouse has a real winner on its hands with its charming new production “Holes.” Based on the popular, award-winning book by Louis Sachar, later made into a Disney film, the comedy/drama is sure to please viewers of all ages with its universal themes of friendship, justice and being true to one’s self.

Henry Walker plays Stanley Yelnats IV, around whom the story centers. It seems Yelnats is a good child yet a magnet for abuse. He ends up getting lots of it when he is wrongly accused of stealing and sentenced to do time at Camp Green Lake, a dust bowl of a youth correctional facility in the middle of a west Texas desert. There he meets a group of boys who challenge him on many levels, both physically and emotionally, but the young man perseveres and by the end of the story he achieves personal growth and the happiness for which he yearns.

Yelnats is convinced that he is subjected to so much grief because of a family curse waged on his Latvian great-great-grandfather by a gypsy in the 1800s. However, the curse turns out to be a blessing when it leads the boy to realize his destiny to clear his family’s, and his own, name. In the meantime he must spend his days doing manual labor, digging one hole a day “as wide and as deep as your shovel,” snarls dominating taskmaster Mr. Sir (Scott C. Brown). Under the blazing sun, and with very little water, he digs with the other adolescent inmates who are also misfits in their own ways: X-Ray (Izaic Yorks), Armpit (Alex Domine), Magnet (Jonathan Hogue), Zig Zag (Lex Gernon), Tough Kid (Hunter Larsen) and Zero (Joseph Allegro).

Camp Green Lake is a bad place run by bad people with the warden (Christie Flynn) forcing the detainees to dig for something she wants to get her hands on, something that, unbeknownst to her, will release the secret of Yelnats’ past. Several different stories intertwine into one in this multi-layered play and in the end it all comes together with the bad guys finishing last and the good guys finally getting what they rightly deserve.

Walker, a junior at Stadium High School, plays Yelnats with heart and the friendship he strikes up with the adorable little Zero (Allegro, a student at Mason Middle School) makes the play quite enjoyable and at times downright heartwarming.

All the boys play their roles very well and it is their energy that makes the play at once funny and touching. The cast includes about 20 actors, some who play multiple roles. There is a lot going on in this play, and although it does not get confusing the viewer is best advised to pay close attention to the storyline. Presented “in the round” at Lakewood Playhouse, “Holes” encourages a deeper level of intimacy with the actors such that the audience feels like part of the action rather than just observers.

The play is directed by Naarah McDonald.

Published on February 25, 2009 at 6:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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