By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
With several shows for live student and military audiences already under its collective belt, the young cast of Vive Les Arts' "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" is ready for general audiences, starting tonight.
The show is the first in the Vive Les Arts Children's Theatre 2010-11 season.
Beloved children's author Judy Blume's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" is a classic kids' tale of sibling rivalry. The novel was adapted for the stage by Bruce Mason and is directed by Liberty Hill Middle School principal Brandon Bringhurst. The cast includes 26 local actors, ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old.
That posed certain challenges, even for an experienced educator, Bringhurst said.
"Typically, when this show is done, not too many of the roles go to age-appropriate kids," he said. "I have a 6-year-old playing the part of Fudge."
Continuing, he said, "It's hard to keep a 6-year-old's attention for 20 minutes, let alone an hour-and-a-half."
But, he said, his casting choices lend the play authenticity.
In "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing," fourth-grader Peter Hatcher narrates in real-time an essay that he's been asked to write about the most important thing that happened to him that year.
To explain, he must first familiarize the audience with his brother Farley, or "Fudge." Peter can't stand his disarmingly cute brother because he is such a troublemaker. Sadly for Peter, however, Fudge receives little in the way of discipline and lots in the way of affection from his parents and strangers alike.
Compared to Fudge, Peter feels like a fourth grade "nothing," said 9-year-old Anthony Svoboda, of Killeen, the charismatic young actor who plays him.
Of the 150 people to audition, the four-time Vive Les Arts' actor landed the starring role. Anthony is in virtually every scene, fighting for his parents' attention.
"They're always telling me to be quiet, never giving me enough praise," he said.
Anthony can relate, he said, because he is the oldest of three children at home.
"I kind of am like Peter because I have a brother and he does get into my room," he said.
It's hard to imagine that anyone's sibling is as bad as Fudge, however, who throws tantrums, smears mashed potatoes on the walls, pretends to be a dog, and constantly meddles in Peter's life.
But 6-year-old actor Nathan Spear does a great job of bringing Fudge to life, sitting in on nearly every scene, looking deviously aware of how his smile melts the hearts of the adults around him.
"Fudge is naughty," he said, shyly clinging to his mother, Anna Adam, offstage.
"You're pretty good at playing Fudge at home," she teased him, "saying 'No,' and 'Let me see!'"
And Nathan is good on stage, too, despite this being his first play.
"His sister (Madelynn, 8), has been in seven plays and wanted to audition," Adam said. Nathan tagged along out of curiosity and landed a starring role.
Nathan's favorite part of the play is pretending to eat flowers, he said, touching on Fudge's need to experience the world through his sense of taste above any other. He eats flora and just about anything else he can get his hands on, including Peter's pet turtle.
Redemption comes in the form of fur and four legs, later in the play, however. And there just might be a chance for Peter and Fudge to find some common ground, after all.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children. They may be purchased online at vlatheatre.com, by phone at (254) 526-9090 or in person at the theater box office, 3401 S. W.S. Young Drive, Killeen.