March 5, 2003


Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning













For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

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Bob Croghan’s scenic and costume design are the dominant mood setters in Children’s Theatre’s whimsical production of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Judy Blume’s classic 1972 story about fourth grader Peter Hatcher and his annoying brother Fudge, takes place in a fanciful rendition of New York City. Cutout skyscrapers and three-dimensional bushes provide a pop-up book backdrop to the Hatcher’s Technicolor apartment.

And what an apartment it is. There is cotton candy pink wallpaper, aquamarine shelving, and a lemon colored telephone. Peter’s room is Sunkist orange with cerulean highlights. When Mr. Hatcher’s business clients Mr. and Mrs. Yarby come to visit, they are clothed in a royal blue and black checked suit, and a purple abstract feather hat, respectfully. It’s a sensory explosion of color, and practically makes dialogue unnecessary.

Peter Loiseau plays Peter Hatcher, the older brother of a promiscuous preschooler named Fudge. Loiseau has a stupendous number of lines, which he has memorized admirably. Claire Whitworth Helm plays the overwhelmed but loving mother, who has returned to school, and leans too hard on Peter to help parent Fudge. Mr. Hatcher is played by Mark Scarboro. He is upstanding and affectionate, but vacuous when it comes to the role of disciplinarian.

The story provides a textbook example of how not to parent. When Fudge won’t eat, his parents beg Peter to stand on his head to amuse the child. When Fudge’s birthday party spins out of control, Peter is sent in to corral Jennie the biter, Ralph the overeater, and Sam the crier. The Hatchers are not vindictive, they are simply too harassed to see that their older son needs as much parenting as their younger son.

Interesting touches include Gary Sivak’s happy sound design that incorporates chirping birds and merry whistling. Peter’s climactic nightmare is punctuated with looming cardboard figures that waver and shake in an amusing, yet hallucinatory allusion. The production is cartoon-like, in that he children are played realistically, while the adults are exaggerated.

The set changes are conducted by purposefully striding actors directed by Peter. The pace of the action is zippy and upbeat, which masks the sometimes flat dialogue. Peter is in charge of manipulating an on-stage weather dial that signals whether it is cloudy or sunny. It is cute in theory, but it is one too many things for the already taxed Peter to tend to.

Director Jill Bloede captures the essence of a happy family with small problems. Parents and children alike will appreciate both the loving and annoying aspects of the Hatcher household.

Lynn Trenning, March 5, 2003

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