Get on the BUS: Fun House Theatre’s A SCHOOL BUS NAMED DESIRE

Logo.funhouseNEWSFLASH: A SCHOOL BUS NAMED DESIRE extended through Sunday 8/23 at 7pm. Go online to gets seats to this final, final performance!

Over the past few years it’s been highly entertaining to watch the clutch of young actors at Jeff Swearingen’s Fun House Theatre grow from tentative, aspiring thespians to bold, confident actors with depth and range and versatility in bringing a range of roles to life. A number of them are about to age out, join the ranks of the creative 20-somethings looking for challenging work in mainstream venues, assisted by agents on film projects and supporting themselves at Starbucks. So, what happens next to Fun House Theatre?

With the arrival of A School Bus Named Desire, my concern for the continued survival and success of the youth theatre company gets put aside. There’s a whole new crop of eager young talents bursting onto the boards and learning the techniques of honest performing from Fun House’s homebody director magi Jeff Swearingen. And they kick it into gear as soon as the lights come up.

Many folks know the sad, sordid tale of A Streetcar Named Desire, where delusional, alcoholic, homeless Blanche moves in with her doormat, abused cousin Stella and her savage brute of a husband, Stanley. The latter doesn’t treat Blanche very well, to put it delicately. The performers in “School Bus”, Swearingen’s tongue-in-cheek adaptation of “Streetcar” set in a kindergarten classroom, are mostly 4th through 6th graders, with the high school contingent playing the play’s adults. So how does Swearingen’s script handle the controversial bits, like Stanley’s rape of Blanche, for instance?

Very well, never fear. When Stanley, played rambunctiously by powerhouse pre-teen Fun House veteran Alex Duva starts getting “pushy” on the playground with fragile new kid in school Blanche (a riveting performance in the “grand classical style” by 4th grade Zoey Smithey), the young lady merely picks up a pink whiffle ball bat and whacks him into blubbering submission, groveling down center stage. Go get ‘em, Blanche. Every woman in the packed house lets out a cheer.

L to R: Alex Duva, Zoey Smithey, Piper Cunningham

L to R: Alex Duva, Zoey Smithey, Piper Cunningham

What works so well to make Fun House’s clever adaptations so effective? First, Swearingen mimics the tone and style of whatever celebrated playwright he’s parodying with painfully painstaking precision. That’s a real side-slapper for those who know these plays well. Second, the audience, a mixture of adults and family members, gets the rip-roaring, corny jokes as they peel off rapid fire, even if the kids do not. Third, and most important, the young actors get an immersive, skill-enhancing experience of creating characters and realities like no other youth-driven theatre company in the region provides them. Timing, focus, building a character, following an arc, enlivening a text, trusting/supporting an ensemble… just like the big guys do at the major companies. It’s all here.

Miss this unique, hilarious production? No way. From the well-cast and spot on lead trio of Piper Cunningham (age 8), Zoey Smithey (age 9) and Alex Duva (age 12) as Stella, Blanche and Stanley to the “parent couples” created from the high school age ensemble troupe members, every actor creates a clearly drawn character. Each carries his/her end of the show like the pint-sized pros they are. Laney Neumann (high school senior) gives a particularly nuanced, “restrained under duress” performance as kindergarten class teacher Ms. Monroe. There’s even a same sex marriage couple. But I won’t spoil it. You must see the show to appreciate this charming creation, not stereotyped or derogatory in the least.

Friday night? Close to sold out.

Saturday matinee and night? Gone, sold out.


Located at Plano Childrens Theatre off Custer Road

You know you want to hear a sweet child murmur languorously about the kindness of strangers and fall to pieces at the mention of pet hamsters….

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