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Theater

KidWorks' 'James' keeps show all in the family in Trafford

| Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
'James', Daniel Wintersgill, (sitting), 11, of Monroeville, meets the insects, (from left), Jeffrey Backus, 14, of Penn Township, 'Earthworm', Jamie Duggan, of Whitehall, 'Green Grasshopper', Eliza Orlic, 14, of Penn Township, 'Centipede', Ashante Barry, of Braddock Hills, 'Miss Spider', and Montana Ferita, 16, of Forest Hills, ''Ladybird', during a rehearsal held at the Theatre Factory in Trafford on Tuesday evening, March 10, 2015, for the upcoming production of 'James and the Giant Peach'.
Kim Stepinsky | for TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
'James', Daniel Wintersgill, (sitting), 11, of Monroeville, meets the insects, (from left), Jeffrey Backus, 14, of Penn Township, 'Earthworm', Jamie Duggan, of Whitehall, 'Green Grasshopper', Eliza Orlic, 14, of Penn Township, 'Centipede', Ashante Barry, of Braddock Hills, 'Miss Spider', and Montana Ferita, 16, of Forest Hills, ''Ladybird', during a rehearsal held at the Theatre Factory in Trafford on Tuesday evening, March 10, 2015, for the upcoming production of 'James and the Giant Peach'.

British author Roald Dahl has been gone for 25 years, but his vivid imagination lives on in the children's stories he wrote, including his best-known classics, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

The Theatre Factory will present a production of the latter, adapted for the stage by David Wood, for two weekends. “James and the Giant Peach” focuses on a unique group of insect characters — Miss Spider, Old-Green-Grasshopper, Centipede, Ladybird and Earthworm — that live with a boy named James in a giant peach stone.

As part of the fun, the theater company invites youngsters to a “Bug Picnic” at 1 p.m. March 22. The pre-show picnic with the “James” cast features a bag lunch with “bug juice,” dessert, and of course, peaches. The cost is $15, which includes admission to the play. Reservations are required.

As for the show itself, David Palyo of Glassport is stepping into the role of director for KidWorks' version of “James and the Giant Peach,” which is one of his favorite books.

“I was thrilled when presented with the opportunity to direct this show,” says Palyo, who has worked as a set designer, makeup artist, stage manager and actor with the community theater group. “The Theatre Factory has really become a part of who I am. I couldn't think of a better theater or a better play to make my directorial debut.”

While “James” will entertain young audiences with its comedy and silliness, the director finds it offers a valuable message for kids about accomplishing great things by building self-confidence and self-esteem.

Lena Irwin of North Huntingdon is enjoying portraying the character that kids love to hate, James' cruel Aunt Sponge. She and her sister are left to care for their orphaned nephew, and Irwin says she “makes his every hour a nightmare.”

“Playing the villain is always a challenge, and this is no exception,” she says. “Being mean to a child is never fun, but I am lucky to have a talented cast to work with. It's very gratifying when I fall, as all villains must, and the audience reacts with glee.”

Doug Peters of Hempfield is portraying three characters, including a New York City tour guide, James' father and the captain of a ship that sees a flying peach.

“The biggest challenge with my roles has been to have a distinctly different voice and accent for each character to give them a unique personality, so the kids don't notice that it is the same guy doing the different parts,” he says. “The biggest challenge with the actual play is always keeping a bunch of excited young kids quiet backstage while not killing their energy for the stage.”

One of those “young kids” is Peters' son, Iain, 8, a second-grade student at Harrison Park Elementary School, who is acting in his first stage production as an offstage “Voice” and an octopus. Iain's dad is pretty proud of his son.

“We are having a blast with the play,” Peters says. “Something amazing happens when you put a kid on stage and tell him to be someone else. They spend half their life pretending anyway, and theater is a way of structuring this pretending so that it becomes something they are recognized and applauded for. There are few things more amazing than being part of a child's first time on stage.”

Irwin's two daughters, Amina, 9, and Laila, 7, also are making their stage debuts in “James and the Giant Peach” as the TV Reporter/Extra and Camera Person/Little Girl, respectively.

“I was thrilled when they asked to audition and share the stage with their mom,” she says.

The cast also includes David Wintersgill as James and Ashante Barry as Miss Spider.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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