Found a Peanut
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
May 7, 2007
Found A Peanut, a play by Donald Margulies, depicts the backyard world of childhood, with its bullies and victims, leaders and outsiders, brats and tattle-tales, friendships and sibling interchanges, and of course, the games. As the children play, we watch as they suffer the indignities of name-calling, learning responsibility, and trying to fit in. These are the moments that the fledging Red Fern Theatre Company deftly captures in its fourth production of socially conscious theater.
Co-founded by Emilie E. Miller and Melanie Moyer Williams, Red Fern holds partnerships with philanthropic organizations as the centerpiece of their offerings, with the work of the philanthropy reflecting the social themes of the play. With that in mind, Found A Peanut, produced in conjunction with the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, might increase awareness among adolescents as to the effect their behavior has on others. In Margulies's play, two boys find a bag of money while trying to bury a dead bird. The result is a throwback to Lord of the Flies and provides an awakening for the eight children. While the interactions among the children build to this, it was the individual moments that caught my eye.
The play is loud, at times chaotic, but there is a hierarchical fluidity that changes as fast as characters enter and exit and as quickly as the games change. It is here that Melanie Moyer Williams, the director, is at her best—defining the group dynamics. Adults are cast as children from ages 5 to 14. There is Smolowitz, the smart outsider, played with just enough vulnerability by Matt Sadewitz; Melody, a brash five-year-old brat, who is as loud as she is bossy (Emilie Miller throws herself body and vocals into this character so that she nearly always dominates when she is on stage); and her best friend, Joanie, who is quiet, reluctantly obedient, and resentful. Played by Melissa Dowty, it is easy to predict this character growing up to be the next Janis Joplin or perhaps a writer of seething wit. John Dalton Hill, as Mike, shows the importance of group hierarchy as he waffles between excluding Smolowitz and then accepting him when the leader of the group doesn't show. The cast is nicely rounded out by Timothy Fannon as the older friend Scott, John Mervini as Little Earl, Mike Mihm as the bully Shane, and Jack Perry as Ernie, Shane's sidekick.
Initially, it is a tough adjustment believing the characters are children, but for the most part that passes. The play moves briskly, and I could visualize an audience of adolescents identifying with many moments. A lovely set designed by Adrienne Kapalko shows a yard outside a red brick apartment building with a broken metal fence to the side, the break providing the kids with the perfect shortcut to wherever they are going. Jessica Greenberg designed the lighting.
Found A Peanut does not aim to be great theater, but it does highlight the thought-provoking element that Miller and Williams were striving for. With that in mind, The Red Fern Theatre Company is off to a good start.