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Review: ‘Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook’ at Adventure Theatre MTC

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When I was about eight-years-old, I saw an irresistible set of Hello, Kitty pencils while shopping with my mom. She told me I couldn’t have them, so I slipped them into my pocket. Once home, my mother found the pencils and marched me straight back to the store to confess my heinous deed to the cashier. I was mortified, but the lesson stuck. I have not stolen since. I am not a crook.

Perhaps it was this experience that allowed me to identify so closely with young Junie, whose adventure in Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook centers on her finding a multicolored pen under a school water fountain. Someone had clearly dropped the pen, and she knew the school had a lost and found, but…. well… it was just such a fabulous, marvelous, wonderfulous pen… Junie just couldn’t bear to part with it!

Megan Graves and Elliott Kashner in Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook. Photo by Michael Horan.

The question has validity, especially when faced by a young child: What do you do when you find something that someone lost? Is the rule “Finders, Keepers?” as the show postulates in one song and dance number? Or is it “If you find stuff bring it in. All day long you’ll wear a grin,” the slogan clearly written on the school’s lost and found bin? (Music by Todd Robinson, Choreography by Michael J. Bobbitt).

Adventure Theatre’s production of Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook, by Allison Gregory, takes audiences along with Junie as she explores this question. It is a bright, vivid production that will entrance young and old alike. My children were laughing and cavorting through the entire show and having so much fun that they didn’t even realize they were watching young Junie grapple with an ethical dilemma.

Megan Graves’ portrayal of Junie imparts the show with nonstop energy. From start to finish, she delivers her dialogue with the frenetic enthusiasm of a child convinced that every thought in her head needs to be described in urgent detail, if not grammatical accuracy. When her teacher (Jessica Lauren Ball) confiscates her wonderful new mittens until recess, we feel the agony as time ticks slowly by for Junie. The supporting cast of Junie’s friends, family and teachers is uniformly good.

The cast of Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook. Photo by Bruce Douglas.

Director Rick Hammerly has created an immersive, multi-sensory experience that begins the moment you enter the theater. Stage and performers are drenched in bright, primary colors. Dialogue is delivered at a crisp, energetic, child-friendly pace and the entire experience is a sensorial feast.

Staging and costumes bring to mind a five-year-old Pablo Picasso left alone in a room with a box of crayons. Beautiful primary colors and geometric shapes arranged with artistic flourish, blocks of carpeting on the walls, yards of yarn interwoven with tube lighting, retractable swings and a see-saw made of rainbow carpet: No detail was too small for Costume Designer Eric Abele and Scenic Designer Douglas Clarke.

Lighting and Sound Design by Jason Arnold and Kenny Neal highlights the inner workings of Junie’s mind, allowing us to experience her imagination through dimly lit dream sequences, and providing cartoon-like sound effects to accompany movement.

With the bright, colorful staging, thoughtful and entertaining script, and childlike energy of the performers, Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook is sure to entrance children and adults alike.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook plays through August 14, 2017, at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.

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