New Kid

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Chris Acevedo and Andréa Morales. Photos by Johnny Knight.

By Dennis Foon

Directed by Julie Ritchey

Produced by Adventure Stage Chicago

In Association with North Park University Department of Theatre and Performance Studies

Playing at Vittum Theater

A Smart Play Will Resonate with Smart Kids

Adventure Stage Chicago and their partners have produced a number of beloved children’s shows, which range in subject from the American Revolution to fantasies about royalty. But their current project, Canadian playwright Dennis Foon’s New Kid, tells a story very similar to the lives of many of the children in the audience, or those of their friends. A co-production with North Park University, where the show ran in October, New Kid tells the story of an immigrant child and the problems and joys he encounters as a sixth-grader in America. With its evenhanded nuance, sense of humor, and big heart, this show is an excellent opportunity for children to learn to love theatre, and talk about the issues they navigate every day.

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Carri Stevens, Chris Acevedo, and Raymond Hutchison

Nick (Chris Acevedo in the performance I saw; the cast switches for the remaining productions, with Seanna Wong taking over the part) feels a bit of trepidation about leaving his native country, called Homeland, but his mother (Andréa Morales in both casts) tells him it’s not his choice to make. His friends give him a clay bowl to remember them by, and he sets off. In America, two children, Mencha (Raymond Hutchison, replaced by Christiane Schaldemose) and Mog (Carri Stevens, replaced by Annamarie Giordano) are hanging out and squabbling at lunch until they catch sight of Nick, who doesn’t speak a word of their language and is overdressed in an unnecessary school uniform. Mencha is willing to reach out to Nick, but Mog is prejudiced against Homelanders, and both of them are disgusted by the scent wafting from Nick’s bowl, which Mog breaks, not entirely by accident. Mencha chooses to be friends with Nicks instead of Mog, and teaches him English and American sports. But Nick’s mother is having her own hostile encounters with Americans, and is displeased with Nick for inviting Mencha over.

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Chris Acevedo, Carri Stevens, and Raymond Hutchison

The dialogue is accompanied by Spanish supertitles, and there is a discussion before and after each performance, which is assisted by a Spanish interpreter. Costume designer Jessica Kuehnau Wardell has given Nick and his mother Afghan-inspired clothing in a play on “Homeland,” which implies a backstory for them while keeping their appeal nearly universal. What will keep adults most interested in New Kid is the nonsense language Foon has provided for the American characters. While it is gibberish of a sort, it is also made up of a combination of pig-Latin and words borrowed from the languages of every previous ethnic group to arrive in America, as demonstrated by Mencha’s name and the use of “porko” and “buffo” as insults. There are also several character dynamics which audience members who are close to their immigrant ancestors will recognize, such as when Nick’s mother asks him to teach her to be more American, and Nick demands that she not speak Homelander in front of Mencha. Director Julie Ritchey has brought out the humor in Foon’s script, as well as its consideration of more serious issues. The best part is that Foon refuses to provide a pat ending. His concern is to represent what life is really like, and the elementary school kids at the performance I saw identified strongly with the characters, and were eager to talk about them.

Highly Recommended

Jacob Davis
3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed November 7, 2015

For more information, see New Kid’s page on Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at Vittum Theater, 1012 N Noble St, Chicago. Tickets are $17 for adults, $12 for children under 14, and $7 for school groups, with discounts for locals. To order, call 773-342-4141 or visit adventurestage.org. Performances are November 14 and 20 at 7:00 pm and November 21 at 4:00 pm. Running time is sixty minutes.