By Valeria Lamarra with Lorraine Treanor
The Hundred Dresses at Imagination Stage.
Book by Eleanor Estes. Adapted by Mary Hail Surface
In 1944, Eleanor Estes wrote a children’s book called The Hundred Dresses. Set during the Great Depression, it is about a child who stands by and watches as others tease a classmate for being different. Wanda, a Polish immigrant, is taunted because she is poor and speaks with an accent. Trying to gain acceptance, she tells the bullying students that she has 100 dresses. Since she always wears the same dress, this just makes matters worse.
Maddie is the girl who does nothing to help. After Wanda leaves town, Maddie finds out that Wanda did have a hundred dresses after all. But it is too late to stand up for her friend.
The second act belongs to local playwright Mary Hail Surface who allows us to see what happens when Maddie is given another chance to defend someone. “I wanted a play which would help children flex their moral muscles, something that teaches about actions and consequences,” author Surface explained. She has succeeded.
The talented cast is headed by Sarah Fischer, who just closed Studio’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in the lead role of Maddie, and Bette Cassatt, recently of Journeymen’s acclaimed Experiment with an Air Pump, who plays Wanda.
You are right. It was a talented cast. The adults played children very believably. Ms. Cassatt as Wanda particularly played a child well. She, along with Jacob (Kyle Magley) and Mr. Petronski (Terence Heffernan) had good Polish accents. I would have thought they were Polish. The boys (Magley and Michael Propster) were always in competition with each other and running all over the place. Especially Jack (Propster), who slid across the stage like crazy.
The set worked well. It was a single set which became the school yard, inside the school, their houses, or Mr. Svenson’s yard with just a few changes, so they didn’t have to move set pieces on and off all the time. Tony Cisek was the set designer and Dan Covey was the lighting designer.
The staging was very subtle. For example, if her father’s lunchbox was on the table, Maddie knew it was a bad day. But if the lunchbox was gone, it meant her father found work that day. I also enjoyed Maddie’s daydreams, which gave her the courage she needed, I think, to confront her friends.
Speaking after the show, Mrs. Surface described how children were and still are bullied at school. In her own words, the bullies “have a magnet around their moral compass.”
If so, seeing a show like this will be good for them. It will also be good for kids who stand around and say nothing when bullies are mean to other kids. Seeing or reading something about the mistakes people have made can help you to stop and think before you do something – or do nothing, like Maddie.
You may not get a parade if you’re nice, but you may get a new friend.
The Hundred Dresses is at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda, MD, through June 11. Performances are Saturdays at 3.30 and Sundays at 12.30 and 3.30. There are additional performances on Friday, May 19 (8), Saturday, May 20 (7), Saturday, May 27 (7), and Saturday, June 1 (7). Tickets are $15 (front orchestra), $12 (side orchestra) and $10 (balcony), and you can buy them by calling 301.280.1660 or at www.ImaginationStage.org.
Note from Lorraine: Anyone who is thinks young people aren’t interested in theatre, should attend an opening night at Imagination Stage. They will see literally hundreds of children, decked out in their finery, some staying up well past their bedtimes, cheering the action, then trooping out to the lobby for the child-friendly buffet. Tomorrow’s audiences are busy seeing quality theatre at venues such as Imagination Stage.