note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Christopher Harding
Reviewed by Christopher Harding
Instilling a life-long love of classic literature and live theater in high school students has always been the mission of Spring Sirkin, the award-winning producer whose Boston-based Chamber Repertory Theatre has been criss-crossing the country for over two decades.
Though Sirkin's Broadway productions like Terrence McNally's "Master Class" have won Tony awards, her greatest passion lies with developing the audiences of tomorrow. Her Chamber Repertory Theatre has performed in 43 states, entertaining and educating youngsters in big cities and on remote Native American reservations. CRT's programs have even aired on National Public Radio.
Teachers are sent study guides ahead of time and usually have their classes read or listen to tapes of some or all of 4 or 5 short stories that are dramatized in each of these fully staged productions. Middle-school students at whom these pieces are generally targeted have notoriously short attention spans, but their teachers' preparation,the heightened lighting and sound effects, and the lively mix of styles seem to keep them focused.
Currently running at John Hancock Hall and at venues in 38 other states this fall are two anthology programs: one is "Tour de Force"; the other, "Encore," opens with Edgar Allan Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart" followed by a richly costumed, whimsically choreographed "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
After intermission, in quick succession follow two stories that warn about getting what you wish for :"The Monkey's Paw" and Guy de Maupaussant's "The Necklace." The matinee ends on an energhetic high note with a rambunctious version of Mark Twain's "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," partially staged as a radio drama.
Emcees offer pointers on theater etiquette, biographical tidbits about the authors, and thematic contrasts between the various dramas all which neatly helps to cover the set changes.
The visits by these fledgling playgoers are often funded by the state's PASS program, but often parochial and private school kids must get the money from home. Their wise parents recognize that tickets to any of CRT's touring shows lead to a mutually reinforcing interest in great short stories and the excitement of live theatre. More than simply a box-office bargain, they are a secure investment in their children's cultural future.