Tuesday, January 15, 2013

“CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN” – Large Cast for the Price!

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

It’s always fun to attend a production by a group we’ve never seen before, and doubly so when it’s youth theater. As lovers of live performance, we are concerned with the development of the next generation of stage actors and audiences – and groups like STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy (STAGES) are invaluable on both fronts. With its huge cast of children, “Cheaper By The Dozen” is an ideal vehicle for showcasing youth talents in acting and all other aspects of live theatrical production (the stage manager is a 12-year old!).

The play is an adaptation by Christopher Sergel of the book by the same name (authored by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey), and deals with the period immediately preceding the death of efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth, Sr. The story revolves around the twelve Gilbreth children (hence the title) and their relationships to each other, their parents, and the outside world. Despite the huge size of the family and the parents’ constant focus on efficiency, the Gilbreth clan is painted as a loving unit with the flexibility needed to accommodate so many individuals. As the children (especially the older daughters) approach maturity, there are inevitable conflicts (Frank Sr. jokingly reprimands his wife for ignoring his request that she bear only boys, as he has little experience with adolescent girls!).

The few adults in the show (Donald Cleland as Mr. Gilbreth, Beth Self as Mrs. Gilbreth, Cindy Bartell as Mrs. Fitzgerald, and Scott Rushford as Dr. Burton) are effective anchors for the show’s real stars, the children. Director William Crawford maximizes the opportunities for youthful actors by using them not only as children, but in several adult roles. The entire youth ensemble displays a cohesive professionalism (not easy with so many people on a small stage!), but there are too many of them to recognize each individual. However, we must recognize the standout performances delivered by the trio of elder daughters, Hannah Solheim (Anne), Frankie Woodman (young Ernestine), and Hannah Wilson (Martha). Of course, whenever they are visible, ParkerPup (the $5.00 Dog) and 2 ½ year old Grant Davis (Robert, the baby of the family) steal the show.

Director William Crawford is a man of many talents. In addition to assembling and organizing an enormous group (21 humans, one dog) into an effective cast, he also designed and helped built the attractive and very functional set. The show moves smoothly, with very few lapses in the action. Certainly the speed with which all of the children can be assembled on stage (it varies between 9 and 14 seconds!) reflects the show’s efficiency expert pedigree!

While the show is enjoyable on its own merits, more important still is the role that STAGES is playing in the early introduction of children to the multiple facets of theater arts. Many of the cast members have studied theater with Donald Cleland, and they must have taken special delight in being able to share the stage with their mentor. As arts education continues to dwindle in the K-12 school system, it is especially important for the entire community to support programs that promote youth theater.

“Cheaper By The Dozen” is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, January 20th with 8:00 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday and a 2:00 matinee on Sunday.

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