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Orange County FAMILY

Dogged 'Tale'

To delight of others, Judy Blume's Fudge is still pestering his big brother into 4th-grade nothingness.

January 15, 1998|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fudge has a profound effect on 9-year-old Peter Hatcher. Fudge can make Peter's stomach churn, his head swim and, on rare occasions, even his heart warm.

Fudge, as it happens, is the name of Peter's 3-year-old brother in Judy Blume's 1972 children's novel "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." Peter isn't sure when Fudge toddled so utterly out of their parents' grip and into his, but he knows one thing: Being his brother's keeper is making Peter feel like a big fat nothing.

Blume's book, which has been praised for its honest and humorous portrayal of older-sibling angst, was adapted for the stage in 1987 by Bruce Mason on a commission from the Seattle Children's Theater.

There have been numerous productions of "Tales"--including a 1993 staging by the Laguna Playhouse Youth Theater. This week, the Kennedy Center brings its version to local audiences. "Tales," recommended for ages 8 and up, will be presented for school groups and in one performance for the public Friday evening at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Youngsters who attend the sold-out school shows have the advantage of the center's Cuesheet, an information packet that includes classroom activities and information on the author, artistic team, cast and process of bringing children's literature to life. Others can access the publication on the show's Web page at http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/Tales/tales1.htm.

Audience members can also find out more about the process and air their thoughts on the show's theme in a post-show question-and-answer period with the cast.

The show, directed by Kathleen Dimmock, ran in the Kennedy Center's black box Theater Lab in fall 1996; it was remounted for the road last fall. The traveling version features nine scenes from Blume's book, told by six adults playing 17 characters, from the Hatcher parents to supercharged toddlers at Fudge's birthday party.

Tour director Kate Hanley says audiences have no trouble accepting adults playing children, even a 6-foot-tall, twentysomething Matt Sawyer as Fudge.

"The size of the actor doesn't seem to matter," Hanley says. "It's the honesty of the interpretation."

Hanley says the physical interaction between Sawyer and John Kirkman, who plays Peter, is what you would expect.

"Peter holds [Fudge's] hand, pushes him out of the way, grabs his turtle away from him . . . just the things an older brother would do to a younger brother."

As do other Blume books for kids, "Tales" packs a lot of laughs but doesn't make light of its characters' very real feelings. At one point Peter is so frustrated by his parents' overindulgence of Fudge that he questions his mother's love for him. "Maybe," he sulks, "I'm not her real son. Maybe somebody left me in a basket on her doorstep." He hopes his real mother is a movie star eager to reclaim him and make his life wonderful, or at least Fudge-less.

No such luck, Pal. Peter is saddled with the little dervish for good, whether that means consoling him when Fudge breaks a tooth on the playground (yes, Peter was supposed to be watching him) or acting like a flaming moron to get Fudge to eat. Naturally, Fudge humiliates Peter at every turn. And let's not even mention the turtle incident.

Anyone who has ever had to deal with a younger sibling can relate to Peter's plight, Hanley says, but she's especially pleased with the response from older elementary-school-age to middle-school-age children, a group that sometimes finds it difficult to identify and express feelings.

"One of the reasons we like this show so much," she says, "is it allows kids who have siblings to recognize certain feelings they might be having . . . and realize it's OK to have them."

BE THERE

The Kennedy Center's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" will be presented for the public Friday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, 7:30 p.m. All school performances and the public performance are sold out, but some tickets may be available on standby; call the box office for details. Tickets: $8-$10. (714) 854-4646.

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