How come my school days were never like this?
Granted, I'm glad I never had a teacher who could turn students into apples when they misbehaved.
But that risk might have been worth all the laughs from the off-kilter world of "Sideways Stories from Wayside School."
For Orlando Repertory Theatre's season opener, director Michael Marinaccio has crafted a delightfully quirky world, played on a tricked-out set by Tom Mangieri.
For those who have never paid a visit to Wayside School, it's the setting for a series of popular children's books by Louis Sachar, who also wrote "Holes." The Wayside School was accidentally built 30 stories high — the 30 classrooms were supposed to be built side by side — and things are just a little peculiar on the 30
Most peculiar is teacher Mrs. Gorf. "I love apples," she muses. "I hate children." Her rules are as odd as her attitude: "There's no sneezing on the 30
floor!" she barks.
Candace Neal is delightfully evil as the mean-spirited teacher, and she then turns the show into an acting class on how to play multiple parts. The fabulously frumpy costumes by Marcy Singhaus help, but it's Neal's speech patterns and physical tics that let her also shine as kind Ms. Jewls and Mrs. Gorf's nerdy yet vengeful son. (Neal also contributes a voice-over as ghostly Mrs. Zarves.)
The "kids" are a treat, too, especially Becky Eck's mush-mouthed Rondi (her front teeth are missing) and Travus Leroux's bright-eyed, counting-impaired Dameon.
Lighting and sound, by David M. Upton and
respectively, add a lot to Marinaccio's creepily crafted atmosphere. The humor is dark (the threat of being eaten!) for the littlest of children, but if they can handle the Wicked Witch from "The Wizard of Oz," they will most likely be unperturbed at the shenanigans at Wayside School.
If nothing else, that fantastic set, all strange angles and bright colors, will be a distraction. Shutters flap, books fly and smoke billows. Even a cow gets in on the action.
The Rep ran a successful production of "Sideways Stories" in 2006. (In fact, Marinaccio played student Myron in that show.) It's good to see this particular school back in session.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5038
'Sideways Stories from Wayside School,' based on children's books by Louis Sachar
Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., Orlando
noon and 4 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 5:30 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 9
$17; $15 students and seniors; $11 ages 17 and younger