When your name is Anastasia Krupnik, life is bound to be tough,
but the 10-year-old girl with that moniker is bound and determined to
make things just as tough for those around her.
The Laguna Playhouse's Youth Theater is offering a stage version
of Lois Lowry's popular pre-teen stories, "Anastasia Krupnik,"
adapted by Meryl Friedman, as the leadoff production of its new
season, and it's splendid, if somewhat offbeat, family entertainment.
Anastasia seems to be perpetually swimming against the tide in
this series of childhood vignettes, whether it's in her class at
school, her relationship with her parents or her visions of
Setbacks such as those visited on her in the play might seriously
affect an ordinary girl, but Anastasia is nothing if not resilient.
As beautifully acted by young Mackenzie Burks, she's a fighter, an
instigator and a survivor.
Much of the play deals with her journal entries -- the things she
loves (her goldfish, her best friend) and those she hates (her
teacher, boys in general and, occasionally, her parents). Burks
brings her character's 10-year-old angst to life in a performance
that blends youthful outrage with a heartfelt normalcy when things
eventually fall her way. But the impending birth of a baby brother
might be the last straw, one that impels her to leave home and mull
Catholicism. John Richard Petersen and Carrie Pohlhammer play
Anastasia's sympathetic but frustrated parents with a mixture of
warmth and resolve.
They field their daughter's questions about their previous
romantic lives with tact and diplomacy and present a loving family
atmosphere despite Anastasia's often-erratic flights of fancy.
Lara Mendizza nicely interprets Anastasia's best friend, while
Shea Gomez and Nick Mirman cutely portray her classmates. The shining
light in the supporting ranks, however, is Tisha Bellantuoni, who
delivers splendidly contrasting interpretations of Anastasia's firm
teacher and her senile grandmother.
Director Donna Inglima has fashioned a number of imaginative
touches that bring the title character closer to her audience's
hearts. Raymond Kent's multi-functional scenic design, abetted by Don
Gruber's sharp lighting effects, makes the show a visual delight.
There are many elements of "Anastasia Krupnik" that should touch
its younger audience, not to mention some that are bound to move
adults as well, such as the scene involving the elderly grandmother.
It's a skillfully depicted account of a slightly off-center
* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.