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A High Giggle Quotient Keeps Youngsters Amused in ‘Stories’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s bare-bones theater--a couple of uninteresting screens, odds-and-ends costumes--and performance quality varies, but “Just So Stories” at the Encino Playhouse evokes generous giggles from a preschool audience.

Sitting on floor mats, toddlers and older siblings can be nibbled by a whale, eat imaginary snacks, aid and abet chases and shout directions at various characters during three Rudyard Kipling stories: “How the Whale Got His Tiny Throat,” “The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo” and “The Beginning of Armadillos.”

The three cast members play three roles apiece. Laurie Harrop--as the crafty mariner, Yellow Dog Dingo and Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog--offers professional spark and brings some life to Kipling’s rich, idiosyncratic language.

David J. McGee does best as the greedy whale who nibbles the audience and swallows the mariner, but seems tentative as Great God Nqong and Slow-and-Solid Tortoise and doesn’t fulfill the characters’ comic potential.

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Elizabeth Bernstein’s youthful enthusiasm is likable, but her enunciation isn’t. She doesn’t convey Kipling’s verbal rhythms.

Adapted and directed by Scott Guy, it’s an appealing script that needs crisper handling. This production’s strength is its audience participation, and the a cappella songs that frame each story and give the cast a chance to shine.

“Just So Stories,” Encino Playhou s e, 4935 Balboa Blvd., Encino. Saturdays-Sundays, 1 p.m.; beginning April 6, 11 a.m. Ends April 28. $5; (818) 990-1613. Running time: 45 minutes.


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