THEATER REVIEW : 'Mountains' Helps Youths Scale Life's Ups, Downs

We're gonna have to burst your bubble . . .

Sooner or later, there's gonna be trouble!

Lucky Southland kids--during the next six months, South Coast Repertory's newest Educational Touring Production, "Mountains and Molehills"--a stylish, funny and thoughtful musical about problem-solving--will be touring elementary and intermediate schools.

South Coast dramaturge Jerry Patch and resident composer Diane King have put together a fast-moving mix of professional entertainment and hit-home reality to help children realize they have ways of dealing with high anxiety.

Adult actors K.T. Vogt, Peter Motson and Robert Almodovar play true-to-life preteens Lucinda, Ricky and Bobo.

Bobo is the school bully, in pain over his parents' divorce and lashing out at his peers. Ricky can't sleep, worrying about being beaten up by Bobo.

Lucinda drives her single working mom to distraction with small concerns: What if her hair's sticking out in the back and she looks like a maniac, what if her goldfish bites her finger when she feeds him, what if she goes to school with a milk mustache--"the only thing worse is Hawaiian Punch lips."

Reciting her litany of worries, Vogt, plump and frizzy-haired, in purple tights, green skirt and denim jacket, is hilarious--and touchingly real, as are Motson and Almodovar.

Motson's Ricky has a happy nature--he laughs out loud when he's all alone sometimes, just because he's feeling good. His distress over Bobo's enmity rings true.

The most poignant character is Almodovar's Bobo. He has the biggest problem and one with no solution--he can't stop his parents' divorce. But he can learn that he's not alone, that he's not at fault and that friends have comfort to offer.

Carlease Burke, who plays a believable mom, shines in her duo role as Solution Sister, a super-cool fantasy figure, who helps the kids realize they can find ways to deal with their problems. Having Ken Jensen act as stage manager, shifting sets and interacting with the cast, is also a nice touch.

From John-David Keller's sensitive direction to Dwight Richard Odle's sky-blue, innovatively mobile set and Diane Doyle's comic choreography, "Mountains and Molehills" deserves an A.

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