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Relevant ‘Ramona’

Relevant ‘Ramona’

Kids don’t scare Robert Whiteman, not even those like Ramona Quimby, who are unpredictable, exaspera

Kids don’t scare Robert Whiteman, not even those like Ramona Quimby, who are unpredictable, exasperating, boisterous and independent.

Whiteman is directing Home Made Theater’s holiday offering of “Ramona Quimby,” which opens Friday night at 7:30 and runs for two weekends at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga Spa State Park.

The character of Ramona was created in 1955 by children’s author Beverly Cleary, who wrote a series of stories about Ramona and is still writing books at the age of 94 at her home in Carmel, Calif. The play “Ramona Quimby” was written by Len Jenkin and first produced in 1995.

‘Ramona Quimby’

WHERE: Home Made Theater, at Spa Little Theater in Saratoga Spa State Park

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17, 1 and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18, and 1 p.m. Dec. 19

HOW MUCH: $18 for adults, $12 for children 12 and under

MORE INFO: 587-4427, www.homemadetheater.org

“Being a teacher, I’m very familiar with Beverly Cleary, and I also read a lot of her books when I was growing up,” said Whiteman, a teacher in the Guilderland school district. “I have two young girls at home reading them now.”

Related story

For Gazette theater writer Matthew G. Moross' review of this show, click here.

Jenkin’s adaptation of Cleary’s work relates the trials and tribulations of third-grader Ramona Quimby, who seems to have problems with just about everyone in her life, from her teacher and fellow students to her older sister Beezus. But despite all the turmoil in her life, Ramona’s story is one of how strong family ties are a good thing and they shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Relevant today

“It’s really quite interesting how relevant this story is today,” said Whiteman. “This was presented to me as a holiday show and it is, but it also relates to today’s economy in that Ramona’s father is losing his job. They have to deal with that, and they also have to deal with their separation from a beloved aunt, who announces that she is marrying and moving to Alaska. All this throws the family into a turmoil, and I think all of us, including the kids, can relate to these kind of things happening. The impact can be quite traumatic, so this is a show that gets very serious in parts.”

Playing the “unpredictable, exasperating, boisterous and independent” Ramona (taken from the playwright’s notes) for the Home Made Theater production is Lucy Mastrianni. Her older sister in real life, Grace Mastrianni, is playing her older sister in the play, Beezus Quimby, while also in the cast are Kara DiCaterino as Mrs. Quimby, Byron Turner as Mr. Quimby, and Dorine Phelan as Aunt Bea.

Clear choice

“We had about 50 kids show up for auditions, and Lucy was clearly Ramona,” said Whiteman. “She gets being that whole younger sister thing. It wasn’t something I had to explain to her, and she looks and acts like what my image of Ramona is. She also looks a lot like the illustrations of Ramona in the books we had growing up.”

Whiteman also liked Lucy’s older sister to play Beezus, and not just because they are actually sisters.

“They do have that natural rapport with each other, but it wasn’t a fait accompli. We looked at them separately. They each earned the part they got as individuals.”

“Ramona Quimby” is Whiteman’s first directorial job at Home Made Theater. He has also directed “Lost in Yonkers” for Theater Voices, and in May of 2009 was in charge of the New York State Theatre Institute’s intern production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

Perfect fit

“Kids are not a problem at all,” said Whiteman. “They’re great to work with, and I think this play with this group is a perfect fit. I was always intrigued by the space in this theater, and a lot of people I know recommended Home Made Theater to me, so I feel great about working with them.”

Cleary had worked as a librarian in Oregon before getting her first children’s book, “Henry Huggins,” published in 1950. In 1955 she produced “Beezus and Ramona,” and the two characters were so popular they would show up in various other books by Cleary.

She won the 1984 Newbery Medal for “Dear Mr. Henshaw,” and was a recipient of the Library of Congress Living Legend Award in 2000 and the National Medal of Arts in 2003.

In 1988, “Ramona Quimby” was turned into a sitcom by Canadian television, and in 1995 Jenkin, a screenwriter, director and playwright, produced the first stage version.

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