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'Anastasia Krupnik' splendid

October 18, 2002

Tom Titus

When your name is Anastasia Krupnik, life is bound to be tough,

but the 10-year-old girl with that moniker is bound and determined to

make things just as tough for those around her.

The Laguna Playhouse's Youth Theater is offering a stage version

of Lois Lowry's popular pre-teen stories, "Anastasia Krupnik,"

adapted by Meryl Friedman, as the leadoff production of its new

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season, and it's splendid, if somewhat offbeat, family entertainment.

Anastasia seems to be perpetually swimming against the tide in

this series of childhood vignettes, whether it's in her class at

school, her relationship with her parents or her visions of

schoolyard romance.

Setbacks such as those visited on her in the play might seriously

affect an ordinary girl, but Anastasia is nothing if not resilient.

As beautifully acted by young Mackenzie Burks, she's a fighter, an

instigator and a survivor.

Much of the play deals with her journal entries -- the things she

loves (her goldfish, her best friend) and those she hates (her

teacher, boys in general and, occasionally, her parents). Burks

brings her character's 10-year-old angst to life in a performance

that blends youthful outrage with a heartfelt normalcy when things

eventually fall her way. But the impending birth of a baby brother

might be the last straw, one that impels her to leave home and mull

Catholicism. John Richard Petersen and Carrie Pohlhammer play

Anastasia's sympathetic but frustrated parents with a mixture of

warmth and resolve.

They field their daughter's questions about their previous

romantic lives with tact and diplomacy and present a loving family

atmosphere despite Anastasia's often-erratic flights of fancy.

Lara Mendizza nicely interprets Anastasia's best friend, while

Shea Gomez and Nick Mirman cutely portray her classmates. The shining

light in the supporting ranks, however, is Tisha Bellantuoni, who

delivers splendidly contrasting interpretations of Anastasia's firm

teacher and her senile grandmother.

Director Donna Inglima has fashioned a number of imaginative

touches that bring the title character closer to her audience's

hearts. Raymond Kent's multi-functional scenic design, abetted by Don

Gruber's sharp lighting effects, makes the show a visual delight.

There are many elements of "Anastasia Krupnik" that should touch

its younger audience, not to mention some that are bound to move

adults as well, such as the scene involving the elderly grandmother.

It's a skillfully depicted account of a slightly off-center

childhood.

* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.

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