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FOR KIDS : Mother Nature's Children : The environmental play 'Orphan Dreams' offers solutions that youngsters and families can take to improve their community.


Are children too young to comprehend environmental issues such as the destruction of the ozone layer or the rain forest? How do you introduce kids to recycling, making it fun as well as showing its global benefits?

Elisabeth Brooks, whose faith in children is strong and determined, answers these questions with an environmental play, "Orphan Dreams," which previews tonight at the Chamber Theatre.

The show confronts children and parents with some pretty meaty issues, and offers some local and global solutions that kids and their families can undertake to better their community.

"I don't mean to be a downer, but our generation has already blown it. We're too comfortable with our bad habits," said Brooks, who has been coaching children for more than 10 years. "But the kids are different. It's up to them to radically change things before it's too late.

"I'm extremely influenced by Native American beliefs," she said. "There was a conscious understanding about respecting the Earth, giving back what was taken out. We need to learn this lesson, sooner, not later."

Brooks wrote the play more than two years ago in a flurry of energy that lasted several days. She directed and produced the show at Calabasas High School with a mostly adult cast. Earlier this year, she relocated her workshop--Act Now--to Sherman Oaks. After minor rewriting, she decided to try the play again, this time at a theater instead of a school gymnasium and with children forming half the cast.

"Because the play is about the environment, I have to explain a lot of what is going on around the world so the kids can understand their lines," said Brooks, a regular on TV's "Days of Our Lives" and featured in the 1981 movie, "The Howling." "We get into some heavy discussions."

"Orphan Dreams" is really several plays within a play, as a group of young orphaned children encounter the selfish and deceitful headmaster, Mr. Dastardly (Marty Maguire). The show incorporates traditional children's tales--"Peter Pan," "Alice in Wonderland," "Snow White" and "Cinderella"--and in a final dream sequence, Dastardly awakens to his environmentally destructive ways.

"This may not be Shakespeare," said Maguire, "but the message comes in loud and clear--take care of the Earth!

"But believe it or not, it's not heavy-handed. It's really fun, for the actors and the audience. Elisabeth knows how to get children to perform," said Maguire, an Irish actor from Belfast who met Brooks in 1989.

"It's been a real experience for us," said Sandra Gale of Glendale, whose 6-year-old daughter, Julia, is appearing in her first theater production. "I didn't know how Julia would do at acting, and especially in a play. But Elisabeth has so much confidence in herself and the kids. I guess we sometimes underestimate our children."

Where and When

What: "Orphan Dreams," an environmental play for children 5 and older.

Where: Chamber Theatre, 3759 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Studio City.

Hours: Previews at 8 tonight, continues indefinitely, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays.

Price: $10, $5 children under 12.

Call: (818) 760-9708 or (818) 995-4441.

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