The Hundred Dresses

Innocent, carefree childhood? Yeah, right

The story of A Hundred Dresses concerns the bullying of a Polish immigrant girl in small town in the 1930s, so it’s not hard to guess that lessons are going to be learned after intermission. In case anyone misses the point, the play’s tagline is “It’s never too late to make yourself a better person.” But redemption is muted in this surprisingly dark production, adapted by Mary Hall Surface from Eleanor Estes’ 1945 Newberry Award winner. Petrified at the thought of becoming a target herself, 10-year-old Maddie (Betsy Schwartz) stands mute while her friends taunt Wanda (Sharia Pierce) for being foreign and poor. (All the kids are played by adults, which is distracting for only about 30 seconds.) Maddie’s inner life is shown in a series of nightmarish montages, including one in which she’s transformed into a ventriloquist’s dummy for her best friend Peggy (Sarah Harlett). The stagecraft in these sequences—a cape turning into a mountain pass turning into a stormy ocean—is pulled off with slapstick precision. The otherwise crackerjack cast is brittle and unconvincing in the play’s lighthearted moments, but when it comes to the terror and surrealism of childhood, they nail it fearlessly. Harlett in particular presses home a grade-school bully’s full vulgarity and cruelty. The lingering message of the play—delivered in the middle-class bastion that is the Seattle Children’s Theatre, where parents bring their children to receive the reassuring benediction of the performing arts—is that sometimes it is too late. Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Center, 201 Thomas St., 441-3322. Performances generally 7 p.m. Fri., 2 & 5:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.; see www.sct.org. for complete schedule. Ends April 6. DAVID STOESZ

Fridays-Sundays. Starts: Feb. 22. Continues through April 6, 2008

 
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