BWW Review: THE HUNDRED DRESSES Addresses Bullying, Friendship, Forgiveness
Adapted by William Kent Williams from Eleanor Estes' 1945 Newbery Honor-winning novel of the same title, The Hundred Dresses is the second play of Metro Theater Company's 46th season. Suitable for young theatre patrons, families, and for educators as well, this is the story of Wanda Petronski (Sophie Murk), a young Polish immigrant, who is the new kid in an American town. With the beginning of a new school year, Wanda makes a connection with her endearingly teachable teacher, Mr. Mason (Phillip C. Dixon). But because her family is far less affluent and lives next door to the offbeat Mr. Svenson (Jacob Cange)-who is rumored to drink motor oil and keep rats for pets, and who hasn't even brushed his teeth in six years-the other children decide they don't like Wanda. Rather, self-proclaimed princess Peggy (Hailey Medrano), the class ringleader, decides this on behalf of everyone else.
"Sometimes it's easier to make up stories about someone than it is to get to know them," Wanda wisely points out to her classmates. And yet, Peggy torments Wanda relentlessly through the autumn months for wearing the same faded blue dress to school every day. Finally, Wanda-who is just trying to blend in and make friends-blurts out that she has a hundred beautiful dresses at home. Peggy, suspecting this is a lie, snootily calls Wanda out on it every chance she gets, while Tommy (Jacob Cange) and Maddie (Alicia Rev' Like) mostly stand by and watch uncomfortably. All the while, Wanda continues extending the hand of kindness to her classmates. First, to Maddie, whose home-baked cookies taste delicious to Wanda, though barely edible for everyone else. To Tommy, whose baseball skills could use a good swirvy, whirvy, curvy ball-and Wanda knows just the coach! Even to Peggy, the girl we've all known and loved to loathe. Peggy, as bullies do, continues to isolate and belittle Wanda until one day, Wanda disappears, never to be seen again. The classmates are left to discover what it means to be a true friend after learning a profound lesson in forgiveness.
This play will hit you right up 'side your feelers, even if you are familiar with the novel before you arrive. It is compassionate not only in its treatment of the character who is perpetually othered by no fault of her own (as is usually the case), but also to the antagonist and all its characters, who grow in the end. It is as applicable today as it ever was and is delivered with surprisingly little didacticism. The adult actors are charming and mostly believable as children, with many touching moments of plausible vulnerability that provoke deep empathy. In fact, in a talkback session after the show, children in the audience felt comfortable sharing their own experiences of being bullied.
Lou Bird's costumes are wonderfully reminiscent of grade school days. David Blake's minimalist classroom set is just enough to hint at the changing of a season and features a nice surprise in the windows of the last scene. John Wylie's lighting design and Rusty Wandall's sound design and original music are nice complements, and the entire production comes together beautifully under Metro Theater Company's Artistic Director Julia Flood's direction.
There are several school performances left, and/or you may catch public performances of The Hundred Dresses at The Grandel through February 24. For more information and tickets, visit http://metroplays.org/performances/public-performances/the-hundred-dresses/.