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'Grace' Tells an Affirming, Enjoyable Tale

FAMILY

March 05, 1996|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of children's literature's most appealing recent heroines takes the stage in Serendipity Theatre Company's uneven, but mostly enjoyable adaptation of Mary Hoffman's joyful book "Amazing Grace," at Burbank Little Theatre.

Adapted by Sam Kuglen and directed by Joyce Guy, Hoffman's story is about a captivating, creative little girl named Grace, who overcomes peers' stereotypical thinking about her suitability to play the lead in her school's production of "Peter Pan." She can't play Peter, they say, because she's a girl and she's black.

Grace's confidence is only temporarily shaken, thanks to a supportive mother, a wise grandmother and a visit to the ballet to see "Romeo and Juliet," starring a black prima ballerina as Juliet.

Except for some unwieldy set pieces and a feeling that the actors were still settling into the rhythm of their roles on the opening weekend, the first two-thirds of the play nicely represent Hoffman's affirming tale.

The pace lagged during the last third, due to Guy's undynamic staging of scenes with ballet dancer Rosalie (Zaire Brown), sound problems and long empty pauses, plus Brown's uncertainty with her lines.

Child actor Keesha Hernandez is a winsome Grace, however, and the other members of the youth cast offer capable support, especially Sean Allen as Grace's pal Raj. The adults in the cast, Cynthena Sanders as Mama, Rique Renaldo as teacher Mr. Hernandez and particularly Fumi as Grace's Trinidad-born, storytelling grandmother, are an engaging professional trio.

* "Amazing Grace," Burbank Little Theatre, George Izay Park, 1100 W. Clark St., Saturday, 1 p.m.; Sunday, 1 and 4 p.m. through March 31. For ages 5 and up. Tickets: $8 (ages 17 and under) to $14; (818) 557-0505. Running time: 75 minutes.

*

On Track: Fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, the beloved little blue British import created by Britt Allcroft, will be delighted with the 15th volume in the home video series, "Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends."

The new video features 11 engaging stories of train travail and triumph, friendship and cooperation, narrated by George Carlin and starring Thomas, Harold the Helicopter, Percy the Saddle Tank, Trevo the Traction Engine, Sir Topham Hat and all the gang, train and human. Plus, the creative, miniature settings are half the fun.

* "Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends," 60 minutes, $12.98; (800) 745-1145.

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