By John Lyle Belden
We have always found it fun and fascinating to see the rising talent in local youth theatre programs. Even if we don’t see the kids return to area stages as they age, it’s good to know they can take the skills and confidence they learn to use wherever life takes them.
But for now, let’s indulge in some Halloween-in-April fun in Greenfield with the KidsPlay Inc. production of “Gravestone Manor” by Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus. Directed by Christine Schaefer and Jeff Pipkin, the cast of third-through-eighth graders smartly deliver a set of scenes with spooky themes which are far more silly than scary.
After KidsPlay’s traditional dance opening, our Ghost Host, Griffin (Anthony Stunda), delivers the “boom-flash” as he introduces the sketches while struggling with minor issues like lights, sound, costumes, and props.
The show starts off strong with a pair of girls (Ellie Stearns and Kyndall Watkins) trying to escape a haunted house while a cursed object literally brings out the best and worst of their personalities, to hilarious effect. Next, a “normal” meet-the-family dinner is complicated by Luna’s (Reese Weitekamp) clan of domesticated werewolves, especially brother and obedience-school dropout Bane (Jackson Martinez).
Then we tune into Transylvania TV, as our undead host Blinky McQueen (Riley Lederman) sets up a date for a boy (Brady Diehl) with the most frightening monstrosity a tween can suffer. The bachelorettes – vampire Sarafina (Aria Studabaker), banshee Aisling (Callie Smith), and “hex practitioner” Tabitha (Molly Wallace) – would fit right in a grown-up “reality” version.
In the next bit, Studabaker returns as a girl taking applications for the monster under her bed. Could it be the ogre (Diehl) feeling obligated to speak in a Scottish accent, or perhaps the goblin (Liam Walker) with a compulsion to talk in rhyme? There’s always the clownish phantom (Spencer Pipkin), or zombie Pete (Carter Pipkin), who also shows up later at the support group “Monsters ‘R’ Us.” At that gathering, led by Lederman as another batty vampire, various characters come to grips with their ilk not being as scary in this otherwise frightening modern world. Cursed mummy Hotep (Everett Sumpter) is taking it especially hard.
The show closes with a return to the fact that the most frightening thing in the world is the adolescent mind, featuring Adrienne Romberg as the frontal-lobe supervisor and Jack Joyner as the synapse that decides to turn his powers of disruption to heroic ends.
The cast also includes Joe McCoy, Amelia Melby, Nora Smith, Charlotte Sumpter, Olivia Turpin, and Charles Wallace. Stage managers are Blair Connelly and Alec Cole. Choreography by Frances Hull.
As usual, you don’t have to be related to one of the kids to enjoy their performance. A long rehearsal schedule and Schaefer’s ability to get the most out of young performers ensure excellent execution of comic timing and crisp delivery of lines, enhanced by the energy and fun-spiritedness of youth.
Finally, we give a shout-out to the eighth-grade “graduates” who are aging out of the KidsPlay program: Brady Deihl, Riley Lederman, Adrienne Romberg, and Charlotte Sumpter.
Performances of “Gravestone Manor” are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (April 21-23) at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, 122 W. Main St. (US 40) in Greenfield. Tickets are just $5 each at the door.