On Tuesday, October 26, 2010 I drove to downtown Indianapolis to see the professional Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of “Holes,” by Louis Sachar. It is based on a novel, also by Louis Sachar, which I enjoyed very much when I read it a few years ago. Louis Sachar also wrote the screenplay for the movie, but I have not seen the movie.
The IRT’s production was directed by David Bradley. It was presented by the IRT’s artistic director, Janet Allen, the IRT’s managing director, Steven Stolen, and Oxford Financial Group, Ltd.
What the Show Is About
A boy named Stanley Yelnats finds himself accused of stealing a pair of shoes that a star athlete was auctioning off for charity. No one believes Stanley when he tries to explain that he didn’t steal the shoes, the shoes just fell on his head. He himself believes that it is just one more thing related to the curse that has been on his family for generations. He is sent to a juvenile correctional facility in Texas called Camp Green Lake.
But there is no lake there. In fact, the camp is in the middle of a desert. The boys at the camp spend their days digging wide, deep holes in the dry earth. If they find anything unusual, they are to show it to the Warden. If she finds it interesting, she gives the boy who found the item the day off from digging.
As Stanley learns how to get along at the camp, we learn, through flashbacks, of the history behind his family’s curse. It is a history that started back in Latvia with Stanley’s great-great-great-grandfather falling in love, asking the local wise woman for help, and forgetting his side of their agreement after she helps him.
On one level, “Holes” is purely a funny adventure story, complete with outlaws, villains, heroic rescues, and mysteries solved. On another level, “Holes” is about digging deeper – in one’s family stories and in one’s inner resources.
I am one of those people that usually find a movie or staged version of a good novel less satisfying than the book. However, I usually still enjoy seeing another person’s or group of people’s interpretation of the book, especially the parts they get “right” according to the vision that formed in my head when I read the book.
I mean, I get why people want to extend the experience of a good novel by turning it into a script: when you love something, you want to deepen your connection to it. That is why there is so much “fan fic” on the Internet, for example. That is also why so many good novels, especially good novels for children, are turned into movies and plays.
Of course, another reason so many successful novels are turned into plays and movies is that it is easier to make money from them. But I think it is usually clear to the audience when a show’s creators were motivated purely by greed and artistic laziness and not by at least a combination of desire for profit and love for the original book.
Louis Sachar’s “Holes” script and the IRT’s production of it both seem motivated at least partly by love. So…even though for me the novel was better, I enjoyed the show very much, too.
The opening is particularly satisfying: the mostly dark opening scene evokes the surprise and speed of events from the story set-up in the book in ways that are just right. Truly spot on. And then, when the lights come up on the full stage and it is pocked with large, square holes in a stylized desert floor, that triggers an “oh, yes! that is what it was like!” reaction, too. (Lighting design by Lap Chi Chu. Scenic design by Robert M. Koharchik. Sound design by Todd Mack Reischman.)
The boy who plays Stanley Yelnats – Nick Abeel – is just right, too: bumbling and sort of naïve, but not stupid or weak. He is eternally hopeful, like the Stanley Yelnatses before him in his family tree, even as he messes up or gets in trouble yet again.
The blending of current scenes with flash-back scenes is satisfyingly adept, with satisfying attention to detail in everything. Richard J. Roberts was the dramaturg providing information on the different times and places. Nathan Garrison is the stage manager as everything from a water truck to a row boat slides on and off the stage while the characters move around them. Wendy Meaden’s costumes include grubby prison jumpsuits and a split skirt for a lady outlaw. Composer Fabian Obispo’s lovely interpretation of the song that has been passed down through the Stanley Yelnats family is another unifying element.
Audience and Appeal Factors
This show will appeal to both adults and kids (upper elementary grades and older) that have read and enjoyed the novel.
However, I think adults will also just relish the chance to see some of their (our) favorite IRT regulars in new roles. All of the adult actors play multiple roles in this piece, but Constance Macy is especially appealing as the deliciously wicked camp Warden. Jennifer Johansen is especially appealing as the sympathy-inspiring outlaw, Kissin’ Kate Barlow. Milicent Wright is colorful and fun as Madame Zeroni back in Latvia, but I especially loved her touching portrayal at the very end as the missing mother of one of the boys at the camp. Robert Neal is willies-producing as the villain, Trout Walker. Ryan Artzberger gives the hole-digging supervisor, Mr. Sir, an especially appealing mix of hen-pecked meanness. Ben Tebbe is especially appealing as Stanley’s earnest and geeky inventor Father. Mark Geotzinger is especially…well, appealing is not really the right word, but his despicableness as the corrupt Sheriff that not only fails Kate but harasses her is an admirable piece of acting. Wayne T. Carr is especially appealing in his role as the comfortingly just Attorney General.
The chance to see some of my favorite actors at work again was a huge part of the appeal of this show for me.
Another part of this show’s appeal is the chance to see the work of up-and-coming young actors. The actors that play the parts of the other guys that are at Camp Green Lake with Stanley are all experienced actors according to their program biographies, but their work was new and intriguing to me. Brandon Merriweather is convincingly conflicted as Armpit, Stanley’s reluctant mentor. David Anderson is intimidating – okay, scary – as X-Ray. Mauricio Suarez as Zero is calmly tough yet vulnerable in his hunger to learn to read. Matthew Joseph Lindblom gives Zero an exhausting but attractively intense and jagged energy as Zigzag. Jaron Cook is authentically boyish and believable as Magnet.
“Holes” closed today, I am sorry to say. I hope that if it interested you, you didn’t wait to read my review before going. (I mean, I am honored that you read my blog – please continue! – but I can’t always get my reviews written as quickly as I would like, unfortunately. I am sorry about that.)
Opening at the IRT This Weekend
I also hope that if the IRT’s new show, “Mary’s Wedding,” interests you, you will just go ahead and give it a try and let me know what you think. It opened last night but I know I will not have time to review it.
Wouldn’t a photo from “Mary’s Wedding” look great right here on my blog to help pique your interest in the show? Unfortunately, I don’t have one.
I do, however, have the brief press release that the IRT’s media person, Kelly Young, sent me. Take a look:
(Indianapolis) – The Indiana Repertory Theatre (IRT) presents its second show of the season, Mary’s Wedding, a simple, moving dream of love and war. This highly emotional World War I-era love story runs on the IRT’s Upperstage Nov. 3-Dec. 4. Set against the backdrop of World War I, Mary’s Wedding presents lives and hearts caught in a time of stunning change. The night before her wedding, Mary wakes from a recurring dream about a childhood love.
Stephen Massicotte’s 90-minute, two-character play, takes the audience through a dreamscape of love, heartache, passion and heroism. It taps into some strikingly intense feelings about love, loss and recovery. Dreams and life collide in an intimate and powerful work that asks, do we see the truth in our sleep, or after we awake?
What: Mary’s Wedding, by Stephen Massicotte
When: November 3-December 4, 2010
Where: Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., Upperstage
Cost: Tickets are $36-52; prices vary depending on show time; discounts available for students and seniors
NOTE: Special Preview Performances: $20 ticket on Nov. 3, 4 and 9
For tickets and information, call the IRT ticket office (317) 635-5252 or visit www.irtlive.com
I can’t tell from this press release who is in “Mary’s Wedding” or who directed it, but I can tell you that there is a fun video interview with Gordon Strain, the set designer for “Mary’s Wedding,” on the IRT’s blog. I first saw it when Gordon posted it on his own Facebook page and I happened to be on Facebook when it happened to come up in my feed. Here is a direct link to the blog post:
I loved Gordon’s set designs for the IRT’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” earlier this year.
Oh! And here on another page of the IRT’s website is information about the design team and the cast. James Still is the director! Too bad I didn’t know that from the IRT’s press release before I gave away all of my reviewing slots in November to other theatres that gave me more complete press releases with photos. James Still is one of my all-time favorite directors and playwrights!
Well, even though I won’t be reviewing this show, I will probably be “rushing” it at some point because I try to see everything I can that James Still or Gordon Strain is involved with. Maybe I will see you at “Mary’s Wedding,” too?
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
(P.S. – I received the above photo from “Holes” from the IRT’s new marketing coordinator, Ben Snyder, after I begged him for one. (Thanks, Ben!) It was taken by Julie Curry.)