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Nothing Crooked in First Stage’s ‘Junie B. Jones’

May. 2, 2017
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Photo Credit: Paul Ruffolo

The play Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook! is taken from Barbara Park’s popular book series and adapted here by Allison Gregory. It’s a heart-touching visit with spunky 5-year-old Junie, the funniest girl in classroom 9. 

First Stage has developed a couple of Junie B. Jones-based plays in the past. The current installment is a delight from beginning to end, thanks mostly to Junie’s antics (played by Molly Domski in the Found cast). Domski shines here as she brings to life this smart-aleck fashionista with her own special view of the world.

Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook! takes place almost exclusively in Junie’s classroom. Various child actors take on well-known personas: Lucille, the rich girl (Grace Fischer), the bully (John Aebly) and Warren, the good-looking boy whose attention is craved by all the little girls (Carson Pressley). The play provides realistic encounters that young theatergoers will, or have already, encountered in their own classrooms. 

Junie isn’t always popular with her teacher (Kay Allmand), the principal (Dan Katula) or the administrative assistant known as the “Grouchy Typing Lady” (Lachrisa Grandberry). Interestingly, these seasoned educators (all adult actors) take Junie’s dramatic flair in stride. Allmand and Katula also are double-cast as members of Junie’s family, namely her mother and her grandfather. Junie’s infant brother is never seen onstage, but he makes himself known by his cries after Junie has awoken him from yet another nap.

Adults should note that this is a scaled-down First Stage production. First, the age range has narrowed from children age 5 to 9 or so. For this age group, the “crime” Junie almost commits is a moral one, not something that brings out the Keystone Kops. Also, the usual theatrical bells and whistles that ordinarily mark First Stage productions have been dispensed with. 

About the most exciting piece of set design is a moveable chunk of the backdrop that is pushed forward and spun around to become Junie’s bed. Director James Fletcher clearly intends to let Junie and her friends be the stars of the show. The set’s attractive backdrop contains a jumble of enormous drawings by kindergarten-age children. On the floor, younger characters leap between a series of low, rounded platforms shaped almost like paint blobs.

Junie’s dilemma begins when she finds a big flashy pen lying in the hallway. Nobody is around. Junie tries to justify keeping it by quoting “finders keepers.” Of course, she eventually does the right thing and returns the pen. Her spunk and tell-it-like-it-is demeanor certainly delighted the youngsters in the audience during one of the opening performances. The 90-minute show is a fun, helpful glimpse into some of the situations real kids will find themselves in, whether Junie is around or not. 

Through June 4 at the Todd Wehr Theater, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For tickets, call 414-273-7206 or visit firststage.org.

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