1/19/2019        S.T.E.A.M. TEAM                           Georgia Ensemble Family Stage Series


****½  ( A ) 



So, here’s the thing.  Aubrey just moved into the neighborhood.  Before her box of awesome stuff is even unpacked, she is witness to the most awesome and amazing clue-hunting crime-fighting foursome in the WHOLE WORLD-ORLD-ORLD….  Scout, Taylor, Elliot and Mischa are able to pool their talents and rescue the neighbor’s cat from a tree, because, as we all know, cats are designed to go up a tree but not-so-much down.   Before too long, Aubrey is eagerly accepted into the group, and the five decide to call themselves the “S.T.E.A.M. Team.”  Because of their names, you see.   It doesn’t take long for the five friends to become the most awesome and amazing clue-hunting crime-fighting FIVESOME in the WHOLE WORLD-ORLD-ORLD….  Or, at least in the whole Fourth Grade.


But time stands still for no kid, and the 4th-graders become 5th-graders, then 6th-graders, then, as Mischa would say, in a correct span of integer-tallied years, 7th-graders, and they seem to go their separate ways.
 But, when Mischa’s science fair project is ruined (an abacus, of course), they join up to solve the mystery, together, just like old times.


Was it an accident?  Or was it just another mean-spirited mis-deed by their life-long peanut-butter-obsessed nemesis Katie Featherstone, who, is, without a doubt, the very very very WORST??!


Since I never met a Topher Payne script I didn’t like, I went into this wearing my inclined-to-approve-tinted glasses, and I wasn’t disappointed.  This is a lively and

fast-moving story, accurately aimed at the middle-school age range, and filled to bursting with Mr. Payne’s usual assortment of uniquely relatable characters, sparkling dialogue, and always-surprising plotting.  That no big deal is made out of the team’s name also referring to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math is a welcome flourish, as is each character’s “specialization” somehow being within the wheelhouse of the discipline matching their initial.  That even the arch-nasty Katie Featherstone is treated with a modicum of affectionate disdain is also a very welcome change from the usual black-and-white, good-guy/bad-guy ethos of too many plays aimed at middle-schoolers.


More to the point, I doubt if anyone in the whole wide world(-orld-orld) who is now (or has ever been) a middle schooler (junior high schooler where I spent my school days) can fail to find at least one (or more) character who strikes a chord of “I know (or knew) that person,” or, more likely, “I AM (or WAS or STILL AM) that person!”  It’s as if Mr. Payne is writing about kids he knows.  Or about the kid that still plays around in his brain.


As they did in earlier productions (A Wrinkle in Time and Junie B Jones is Not a Crook), the GET TYA(*) ensemble (Chris Ciulla, Christopher Holton, Alex Renee Hubbard, Jacob Jones, Amy Levin, and Dayanari Umana) ensembles the heck out of these characters, making them all seem alive and curious and driven and really the most awesome and amazing clue-finding crime-fighting team that ever graced a Saturday stage.  They are a talented group, and I look forward to their future work.


So, the lesson here is that teamwork will often succeed where individual effort sometimes comes up short, and good friends make the best of teams.   It’s a lesson worth relearning even if you’re deeply ensconced in your golden years and as far from middle school as a cranky old writer can possible be.


   --  Brad Rudy  (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #GETTYA_STEAM)


There is one more performance this time around (Saturday 1/26).  And, of course, as all TYA productions, it will be touring various school venues over the course of the year.  Coming in March will be the return of Wrinkle in Time and And Then They Came For Me, with Junie B Jones Is Not Crook coming back in April.  These productions are always worth a return visit.  

(*)  Georgia Ensemble Family Stage is aka "GET Theatre for Young Audiences."

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