Mean girls are not anything new. And with every bully comes the question that Wolf Hollow’s Annabelle asks of new girl Betty, “What makes you so mean?” Betty came to stay with her grandparents. From her first day, she has a chip on her shoulder and targets Annabelle with her bullying. She’s verbally and physically abusive. A real bad seed.
Local author Lauren Wolk wrote “Wolf Hollow,” the young adult novel and New York Times bestseller, and Susan Kosoff adapted it into a play. Beautifully staged and acted, this world premiere production of at the Cape Cod Theatre Company’s Harwich Junior Theatre is not to be missed. The opening night audience was mesmerized from beginning to end.
The story is set in rural Pennsylvania in the early 1940s. Annabelle lives there with her parents, two brothers, her aunt and her grandmother. Wolf Hollow is a tight-knit community complete with a one-room schoolhouse, a constable and a local character, a World War I veteran known only as Toby. Toby, a soft-spoken man, has not seen a barber in years and walks around with three rifles on his back observing much and saying nothing.
Nell Hamilton, the young actor who captivated us as Scout in HJT’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” a few years ago, has once again captured the essence of a young girl on the brink of adulthood. Hamilton effortlessly portrays the dawning of innocence lost when a young girl uncovers what’s wrong with the world. It’s a brilliant performance. Hamilton is surrounded by an excellent cast of actors, actors who actually never seem like they’re acting. The production never loses pace and keeps you enthralled with the unfolding tale as if you are eavesdropping and can’t look away. Jane Stabb as the adult Annabelle serves as the narrator; Stabb is superb as she guides us gliding from tableau to tableau in a flashback format.
Perhaps Dick Morrill’s own war-time experiences empowered his spellbinding performance as Toby. Morrill captures all the layers of this complex character. His performance is one of the many in this show that portrays such depth and substance. Jade Schuyler’s mother is another. Schuyler dons the emotions of the disciplinarian with empathy and as straightforward as the well-worn house dress she wears. Madison Mayer’s Betty is chilling; even her eyes shoot off malice and mayhem. David Wallace portrays the father with a steadfast hand, and Karen Stantos plays bitter Aunt Lilly with just a touch of kindness. Each cast member adds to the honesty of the production and they all deserve a mention: Dianne Wadsworth, James P. Byrne, Steve Carter, Ella Adamsons, Jack Credit, Edrian Wright, Jillian Annessi, Lou Maloof, Susie Davis-Broff, Ed Coppola and Jack Kerig.
The theater’s producing artistic director Nina Schuessler directed this production with a competent and loving hand. Schuessler’s pride was evident on opening night. Byrne’s set and lighting was cleverly done and highlighted the production along with J Hagenbuckle’s composition and sound design, Frances Covais Lautenberger’s authentic costumes, Marybeth Travis’s props and the oversight of technical director Matthew Kohler. Behind the scenes, stage manager and light board operator Kate Paxton, sound operator Shiloh Pabst and crew Rachel Simmons were instrumental in the overall flow of the production.
“A worrisome conclusion” is how the constable describes the story we are about to see and worrisome conclusions can be tricky. But one conclusion is not worrisome at all: see this powerful show with your family (no one under nine years of age, please, the program warns). You won’t be sorry.
At Cape Cod Theatre Company, Home of the Harwich Junior Theatre
Through May 13, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m., vacation matinees April 17, 18, 19 at 2 p.m. Information and reservations: 508-432-2002 ext. 2 or www.capecodtheatrecompany.org