by Louis Sachar, adapted for the stage from his novel of the same name
Directed by Rachel Grossman
Produced by Adventure Theatre
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
The novel Holes is designed to make older children excited about reading. Adventure Theatre’s fine, faithful production of the Louis Sachar novel will make them excited about theater. If that’s your objective, this is the right place.
Holes first introduced itself to me when we were hosting a young friend of ours from Chicago for the summer. Alex was doing an internship with his Congressman, and he was full of ambition. He was a bright 14 year old kid, but English was his second language, and reading, as we would say in days of old, was not his bag. He had brought a book from his summer reading list with him – a novel about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, fabulously noble and deadly dull. He couldn’t get through it; I barely could myself. Desperately, I looked for a novel which wouldn’t cause Alex to give up reading. On impulse, I bought Holes, a Newbery Award winning story about a hard-luck kid who discovers some strange things at a prison camp. I took it home and started to read.
I finished at five a.m., which made for an interesting commute. Alex took a little longer – three days, as I recall. After that he read another novel, and a third, before, grim-faced, he tackled the novel about Dr. King. When he finished that, the war was over. He was a reader.
Louis Sachar, and writers like him, are twenty-first century heroes, who make our children fall in love with reading, and therefore become stakeholders in civilization. Rachel Grossman, by animating the story on Adventure Theatre’s stage, further amplifies Sachar’s heroism.
Here’s the story: Stanley Yelnats (Garrett Brennan) – the palindromic name is a family tradition – is unfairly convicted of a crime, and sent to the ironically-named Camp Green Lake, a prison camp for juveniles. There, under the whip hand of “Mr. Sir” (the fabulous Oran Sandel) and in the company of his fellow inmates Magnet, Armpit, X-Ray, Zig Zag and Zero (Javi Harnly, Arturo Tolentino, Brandon White, Jacob Yeh and Sean McCoy, respectively), Stanley is compelled to dig an enormous hole each and every day. Mr. Sir instructs him to look for something interesting. “If the warden likes what you found, you’ll get the rest of the day off,” he says.
Stanley’s story is told in counterpart to the story of his ancestors. Stanley’s great-great-grandfather (Roger Payano) neglected to fulfill a promise he made to a Gypsy (Wendy Nogales), and thus is blamed for the apparent curse which has befallen the Yelnats clan. Stanley’s great-grandfather made a great fortune, but it was all stolen by Kate Barlow (Lorraine Ressegger), the kissing bandit. Kate has her own story: she once loved a black man (Payano); to punish the miscegenation, the white townspeople killed her beloved and burned her schoolhouse. She turned to murder and other crimes in return, eventually dying under the bite of one of the venomous yellow-spotted lizards which overwhelm the place. No one ever found her stolen booty.
You can pretty much guess how this story develops, but don’t tell the kiddies. The great pleasure for you, mom and dad, will be to watch your kids’ faces as they put the pieces of the puzzle together in their own minds, and suss out the whole true story.
The production features, in addition to Sanders’, an excellent strong performance by Wyckham Avery as the camp’s formidable warden. The warden wears a pleasant mask, but terrifies the kids by whacking around the fierce Mr. Sir – the functional equivalent of kicking a grizzly bear. This is the most subtle role in the production, and Avery nails it. Brennan does very fine work as the protagonist, making him believable and sympathetic, and his fellow inmates are uniformly well performed. Among them, White, as X-Ray, and McCoy, as Zero, who are given the most work by the text, are standouts.
And justice requires that we acknowledge Hannah J. Crowell’s swell set, which expertly integrates Green Lake’s arid desolation into the existing framework of Adventure Theatre’s physical space. Where the text calls for features which can’t be produced – poisonous lizards, for example – Crowell solves the problem efficiently, and with imagination.
My only quibble is that the production doesn’t seem entirely certain about its audience. Some of the early portion of the play is done so broadly it appears as though the production is targeted at younger children, but by the time Stanley gets to the prison the action is realistic and natural, as preferred by ages eight through one hundred. Note, however, that in the production I attended (the company graciously permitted me to attend the last day of previews to avoid a scheduling conflict) most of the audience were younger children, and they were riveted, notwithstanding the play’s ninety-minute intermission-free length.
And what about Alex? I know you’re waiting for me to say that now he’s the third baseman for the New York Yankees. But in truth he’s something even better: a productive member of society who, after his own kids are tucked into bed, occasionally enjoys the pleasure of a good read. If that’s your objective, you’ve come to the right place.
Running Time: 1:30 with no intermission
When: Monday, February 16 at 11 a.m.; Tuesdays through Sundays until February 19 (Saturdays at 11 a.m., Sundays at 3, and all other shows at 10.30 a.m.); thereafter Fridays through Sundays from Saturday, February 21 though Sunday, March 29. Fridays are at 7 PM, Saturdays are at 5 PM, and Sundays are at 3 PM, with the following exceptions: there will be an additional 10.30 a.m. show on Friday, March 13; no show Sunday, March 15; and the show on Friday, March 27 will be at 10.30 a.m.
Where: Adventure Theatre, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD.