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The Hundred Dresses (encore)

Or: the Coming Chill

In the stage rendering of Elenore Estes novel, the world occupied by Maddie Martins (Myrna Conn) and her playmates seems as idyllic a childhood that can be dreamt: the girls trade their skipping rhymes, the boys fly off in harmless flights of fancy, everyone gets to wear nifty clothes, the autumn colors are breathtaking and, most beautifully, people take the time to notice them. As young and well bread Jack Beggles (Charlie Oh) sincerely puts it, “Everybody’s happy.” But when Wanda Petronsky (Ali Breneman) a young Polish girl arrives in this well ordered world, with a strange name, strange accent and plain, time touched clothes, Maddie’s best friend and protector Peggy (Maisie Rose); a girl usually filled with love (for her self) leads the school in mocking and shutting out the child. As the taunting of Wanda’s strangeness, poverty, and professed collection of a hundred dresses grows worse, Maddie begins to wonder whether preserving her comfortable place in a perfect world is worth seeing another girl ground down to nothing.

Director Rives Collins has done very well to build up that midcentury magical world, with its light hearted flounchings and schoolyard romances (Oh young Maddie, oh young Jack, oh young Cecile (Anne Martin), ya’ll are two sweet for words). Clothed in Cassie Bower’s Norman-Rockwell-esque costumes and illuminated by Jim Davis’s purposeful but elegant lighting, Collins’s world seems about as simple and toothacheingly sweet as you could wish. But he has also projected (through the persons of Miss Mason (Christabel Donkor) and Jan Petronsky (John Haas) the shadow of the adult world, with its sharp toothed prejudices on class, status, and spending culture; prejudice’s which are already chilling the bright and warm world of childhood.

The yoke of the show falls pretty heavily upon Conn’s shoulders but the entire cast is there to help her carry the performance along. Not that she needs the help; Conn has a singing voice of liquid light: warm and billowing, with a golden mellowness that flows down your ears and pools snuggly in your stomach. Her sad innocence in “Wanda Petronsky is missing”, her dying fall, is a wonder to hear. But when she is joined in song by the rest of the cast! Haahhhhh! Both in “Wanda Petronsky is Missing” and “The Passing of Autumn” the harmonizations that sing out are snug as winter sundays and clear as an angles finger on the wineglass of the air. Besides, the kids all have the awe filled, wide eyed living wonder of childhood: there’s not a drop of cynicism to be found in them. That’s what makes their cruelty all the more awful to behold.

Yet even as we have a sense that that golden autumn will soon be snuffed and winnowed away, Maddie and Wanda and the rest seem well bundled against the coming chill. Though the last leaf may fall, and comfortable dreams be upset, and actions (or inactions) may cause undreamt of harm, there is always still the chance to pick up a part in that golden harmony, and clothe oneself in that snugness and trust that though one is wiser, one can still be kind and take time to notice the beauty in the world.

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