First Posted: 1/15/2009
PEMBROKE - From the mouths of children come adult messages, about adversity, survival, hope and happiness.
Travis Stockley, theater professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, says there is satire and comedy in “You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” the play he is directing with musical theater students from the university. But, says Stockley, this “play with music” has adult problems that frequently have simplistic answers, which become clear when voiced by children.
“First off, it's not a kids play per se, even though the vehicle it uses is children,” Stockley said. “It's a play with adult feelings and emotions put on a kid's level to make it easier to see, void of all the junk we put into it as adults.”
The play was adapted from the “Peanuts” comic strip of Charles M. Schultz.
David Crow, a 36-year-old music theater senior, portrays Charlie Brown, an insecure, happiness-seeking, 8-year-old ‘blockhead.'”
“I've identified with him since I was a kid,” Crow said. “Travis calls him pragmatically depressed but always hopeful. No matter what happens to him, he always comes back. Wherever I am, there seems to be a Lucy in my life.”
Lucy is Felicia Mangum, a 21-year-old sophomore who is coming to grips with her cocky, self-absorbed character who is famous for pulling away the football as Charlie Brown is about to kick it.
“I'm getting there,” she said. “It's been tough because she so conceited, spiteful, brutally truthful and a total queen diva. It's hard to be that top-notch because you think, gee, nobody can be that good.”
Stockley says there's a bit of Charlie Brown in everyone, and that the play warps humanity-related themes with humor.
“The first is that life is unbearably difficult,” he said. “Secondly, it stresses that tenacity is the greatest asset during adversity. It's about survival. Charlie Brown is never going to kick the football and never going to win the heart of the red-headed girl. But there's always hope and he always tries.
“The third point is that in the midst of the most absurd situations, we find happiness, and it constantly takes us by surprise. Happiness is nowhere yet it always surrounds us.”
Matt Gladslade is all about happiness as Snoopy, the ultra-cool beagle who sees himself as a World War I flying ace, delights in the pleasure of suppertime or changes the direction of a scene by licking a child.
“You've got to like a fun-loving dog like that, even if he does seem to go off the deep end a little,” Gladslade said. “He's someone who can be completely obsessed with mealtime or in his own fantasy world. He brings a great element to the play.”
Matthew Blue is Linus, always sincere, touting a security blanket.
“The blanket completes him, makes him feel like he can do anything,” Blue said. “He's got a wealth of information that he's willing to share, but he tends to explain things like it came from a dictionary or book.”
Tim Bennett portrays Schroeder, the studious child-prodigy pianist. It Bennett's first stage role, but he is a veteran performer with musical groups. Holly Hensley is Charlie Brown's sister, Sally.
Pigpen and Woodstock, other “Peanuts” staples, are nowhere in the show.
Pianist Angie Carter leads the five-piece orchestra through “You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “My Blanket and Me,” “Beethoven Day,” “The Doctor is In,” “The Kite,” “Suppertime,” “The Red Baron,” “T.E.A.M: The Baseball Game,” “Queen Lucy” and “Happiness.”
The show ran for 1,597 off-Broadway performances from 1967 to 1971, with Gary Burghoff - Radar from TV's “M*A*S*H” - as Charlie Brown.
The 1999 revival won two Tony Awards and launched the career of Kristen Chenoweth, seen in “Wicked,” “West Wing,” and “Bewitched.”
“The biggest word that killed the revival was ‘cutesy,'” Stockley said. “But these characters don't speak like any 6- or 8-year-olds I know. Schultz really knew how to use irony and underplay.”