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HEY, CLOWNS!: LET'S PUT ON A SHOW! : American Children's Theatre Gives 'Jack and the Beanstalk' a Good Goosing

February 13, 1992|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

The headliners are stalled in Barstow. The audience is getting restless. And, to be frank, the stand-ins are real clowns.

At any other venue, this would spell disaster. But at the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, it's the formula for an afternoon of featherweight fun for the very young and the young at heart. Presented by the American Children's Theatre-Anaheim (ACT-A), "Jack and the Beanstalk (A Clown's Play)" continues Saturday and Sunday afternoons through March 15.

In this adaptation by Reginald F. Bain, the familiar tale of a boy who outwits a giant to earn the big bucks is updated with generous helpings of tomfoolery. Under the direction of Rhesa Casady, ACT-A's energetic cast plays it light, giving the show an airy, improvisational feeling that's further enhanced by its imaginative but sparing use of sets and props.

A pratfalling gang of clowns opens the show, warming up the audience with boffo humor, a couple of stunts and even a sing-along. Everything is going swimmingly until Mustard the head clown (Pat Johnson), breaks the bad news: The Bumblebee Barnstormers, the featured performers, are stranded on the road and can't make the show. Hands are wrung and brows are furrowed until somebody suggests that the clowns carry on with the performance. The gang quickly sets to work, improvising props (check out the beanstalk) and costumes in preparation for the afternoon's fun.

Sure, the spontaneity is scripted, but at a recent performance it seemed to sit well with the largely preschool- and kindergarten-aged crowd. After all, what child younger than 6 couldn't teach an adult a thing or two about playacting? The cast builds on that throughout the hour-long show, inviting youngsters to be a part of the fun by helping to cast the clowns in the show and provide sound effects.

Casady's eight-member troupe of local teen-agers and young adults works well as an ensemble. Outfitted with ridiculously padded biceps, Scott Staudt is a blustery but bumbling giant who draws more giggles than gasps from his young audience. Lester Noriel's Jack is pure-hearted and so eager to please that it's no surprise when the giant's wife (played with a campy Italian flair by Amparo Lucero) not only hides him from the big brute but literally loads him down with goodies before he goes.

Perhaps unintentionally, Bain offers a pretty fair parody of modern parenting trends in Jack's mother (Ann Noriel), a woman so understanding and supportive that she doesn't even lose it when Jack sells the family cow for a handful of worthless beans. (Come on, doesn't the kid at least deserve a "timeout?")

"Jack and the Beanstalk (A Clown's Play)" is the second show in ACT-A's 1991-92 season, which opened last November with a production of "Goldilocks and the Christmas Bears." The 5-year-old company generally sticks to a menu of simply-staged children's classics, presented in the round for seven weeks at the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center ("The Ugly Duckling" opens March 21).

One complaint: In an apparent attempt at product differentiation, ACT-A creative director Herman Boodman has tacked on a pirate theme to his season, opening and closing each performance with an appearance by Buccaneer Ben (Glenn Hoeffner), a grizzled but amiable old cuss who cozies up to the audience while pitching the coming shows. The gimmick gets a few giggles, but it's far better suited to the birthday party circuit than live theater.

What: "Jack and the Beanstalk (A Clown's Play)" by the American Children's Theatre-Anaheim.

When: Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 15.

Where: Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, 931 N. Harbor Blvd.

Whereabouts: Take the Riverside (91) Freeway to Harbor Boulevard and drive south.

Wherewithal: All tickets are $5.

Where to call: (714) 758-8393.

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