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Thursday, May 8, 2003 02:20 pm

Backstage Pass

“Charlotte’s Web,” “A Walk in the Woods,” and a serious play for young people.

Charlotte’s Web

If you're planning to take in Charlotte's Web at the Springfield Theatre Centre over the next two weekends (May 9 to 11, and 16 to 18) you might consider going twice. Director Nancy Miller has cast the leading role of "Charlotte" with two of Springfield's strongest young performers, Talor Lutz and Molly Mathewson. It might be worth it to see both of their interpretations (call 523-0878 for tickets).

While Springfield theater always offers lots of musicals and comedies, there are also more challenging plays on the scene. Last week Lincoln Land Community College presented a well-acted production of Jon Klein's thoughtful comedy Dimly Perceived Threats to the System. Coming up is Wildloon Productions' staging of A Walk in the Woods (May 30 to June 1 and June 6 to 8) at the Springfield Theatre Centre. A Walk in the Woods is a 1988 play by Lee Blessing about the arms race. Don Schneider and Doug McDonald play the roles originated on Broadway by Robert Prosky and Sam Waterston. Set in the early 80s in Geneva, Switzerland, a Russian and an American diplomat attempt to negotiate a nuclear reduction treaty. Pat Anderson directs (call 523-0878 for tickets).

Jason Goodreau directs a new play for youth titled The Search for David's Heart, adapted by Cherie Bennett from her best-selling novel, May 9 and 10 at 7 p.m. at Pleasant Plains Middle School. This is one of the most challenging scripts for young people to come along in a while and its serious subject makes it a must-see for families. The plot revolves around a young girl who idolizes her older brother and how she must cope with his death.

"Cherie Bennet paints very realistic pictures of kids and how they deal with their problems," says Goodreau. "And she's not afraid to deal with tough topics. I think some people will be shocked to hear a middle-school girl wishing for breasts live onstage, but they shouldn't. Kids do think these things!"

Though it's a serious work, the play is very much a comedy as well. "In my opinion," says Goodreau, "the playwright skillfully balances the tragic with the comic in a very nonintrusive and healing way. She hits the tough stuff, but then tells the audience it's OK to laugh too."

Asked what attracted him to this play, Goodreau says that it teaches important lessons in friendship, how we deal with loss, how we handle parents in crisis, and how we deal with changes in family. "For the first time, I'm doing an 'age-appropriate' play for middle schoolers in a way that I truly think is appropriate for them, not what someone else thinks is appropriate," Goodreau says. "And it touches the kids involved in a unique way. They have really risen to the challenge."

Call 626-1061 for more information about The Search for David's Heart.

Rich McCoy is holding auditions for boys, ages 9 to 13, to play the role of Oliver Twist, this Saturday, May 10, at Wesley United Methodist Church. The musical Oliver! will be up at New Salem for seven performances beginning August 17th.

The fourth annual Cemetery Walk at the historic Rushville Cemetery (on Clinton Street) will be held Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25 beginning at 1 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 3:30. Local actors portray citizens of Rushville's past, including a descendant of Daniel Webster; a woman who made a coat for Chief Keokuk; two men who experienced a Gold Rush adventure; and two members of the Scripps family. Call 322-2066 for information.

Jacksonville Theatre Guild stages The Wizard of Oz at the Sophie Leschin Theatre, with young Springfield student Kates Rotroff as 'Dorothy,' May 30 to June 1 in a production directed by Kelly Hymans (call 245-1402 for tickets). Auditions for its summer production, the musical Grease, will be held May 17 at 10 a.m. That show, directed by Eric Thomas, will play in July.

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