"Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing," published in 1972, is now a play and this year's Spring Production by the city of Pleasanton Civic Arts Stage Company, opening tonight at the Firehouse Arts Center.
The tale is about an older brother's experiences with a younger brother who drives him crazy. From Peter's perspective, his parents' attention and that of most of the adults around him, is unfairly focused on Fudge, his 3-year-old brother. Fudge's bad behavior is too often overlooked, and Peter's good behavior isn't rewarded.
"One of the most important things about this show is that two very young actors, the boys playing Peter, really drive the action and provide all the narration," said Director Paula Wujek. "It's quite a responsibility for a young actor and Matthew Bessiere and Calvin David are doing an impressive job."
Peter vows to get his parents to pay attention to him for a change. According to Wujek, one of Blume's major talents is telling a story from a child's perspective and the stage play preserves that aspect of the book.
"One of the most important things about this show is that two very young actors, the boys playing Peter, really drive the action and provide all the narration," Wujek said. "It's quite a responsibility for a young actor, and Matthew Bessiere and Calvin David are doing an impressive job."
In addition to Bessiere and David, the production's two casts include guest artist Sean Robert Garahan playing Dad. Garahan is a San Francisco Shakespeare Festival actor who will perform in this summer's Free Shakespeare in the Park production of "King Henry V."
Civic Arts Stage Company regulars Megan MacAdams (Queen of Hearts in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland") and Morgan Werder (Duchess in the same show) alternate as Mom.
Peter's younger brother, Fudge, is played by newcomer Maxim Carrel and Kate Derham, who played one of the comical guinea pigs in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."
An ensemble of children and adults perform in the supporting roles, some new to Civic Arts Stage Company and some returning actors.
"Every child has felt injustice in his or her life, and Judy Blume really understands how that feels," Wujek noted. "Since Peter is our narrator and guide, we understand how wronged he feels, but we also understand that his family really loves him and that they appreciate him much more than he realizes.
"As a cast, we discussed themes in addition to sibling rivalry, love for a pet, and classmate squabbles," she continued. "'The need to have one's voice heard' emerged as an overarching theme; children often feel not just misunderstood, but unheard.
"Allowing Peter time to reflect on his experiences is valuable as he tries to navigate fourth grade. He emerges less self-centered and more mature because of this reflection."
In addition to Wujek, who also directed past Civic Arts productions "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," "Charlotte's Web," and "Ramona Quimby," the crew includes resident designers Steve Mannshardt (set and lighting), Thalia Cronander (costumes), Kristin Werder (props), and Ryan Short (sound). Rob Dario is stage manager and created the graphic design for this production. Lisa Alba is volunteer coordinator.
"The show is set in 1972, which is when the book was written. We think parents will enjoy sharing this play with their children, since many of them grew up in the 70s and read this book when they were children," Wujek said.
What: "Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing"
Who: Civic Arts Stage Company
When: May 4-13; at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave., Pleasanton
Cost: Adults -- $10, $15, $18; children, seniors -- $6, $9, $12
Tickets: Online at www.firehousearts.org; call 931-4848, or in person at the Firehouse Arts Center Box Office