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A darker 'Boxcar'

"The Boxcar Children," which opened Friday at the Theatre of Youth, is another classic example of how live performances of a classic story can differ substantially from the book.

As a whole, the play itself was fine. The staging was particularly clever. The minimalist set could be turned around or on an angle to reveal a different set or to represent a scene off from the main location. The acting was also good: the children in particular did a fine job of representing the internal and external struggles their characters were going through.

However, children expecting to see the book come to life might be a bit disappointed. The tone of the play is definitely darker than the original series. In the book, no definite time period is given: the reader can assume the present-day.

In the play, the story is definitely set during the Great Depression, with constant talk of "the crash," soup kitchens, repossessions and a somewhat scary scene involving a group of hobos.

This differs from the original tone of Gertrude Chandler Warner's story. In her biography on the Albert Goodman & Company Web site, there is a quote from her that states " -- the original 'Boxcar Children' raised a storm of protest from librarians who thought the children were having too good a time without any parental control! That is exactly why children like it! Most of my own childhood exploits, such as living in a freight car, received very little cooperation from my parents."

The constant talk of the Great Depression makes the production seem more "real," as opposed to the simple "child's play" that makes up the appeal of the original story. Another variance from the original story is that the children's parents drowned trying to save them in a boating accident, and one of the children complains of frequent nightmares of the tragedy. In the book, no explanation is given for the parents' death.

The play did move undeniably slowly. This may have been in consideration for the young children in attendance, giving them time to absorb the majority of what was going on, but it was apparent that the adults in the audience felt the drag.

While the talk of the Great Depression and repossession of homes is unintentionally very timely, children who expect to see their favorite story brought to life might be slightly disappointed. Most of the major plot elements are there, but the carefree attitude exemplified by the book is not. However, on its own, the play was a decent production and an enjoyable afternoon for the children who came to see it.

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The Boxcar Children continues at TOY, 203 Allen St., at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 26. Tickets are $17 to $19. Call 884-4400. A question-and-answer session after each performance allows the audience to ask questions of the actors and production staff.

Elizabeth Benz is a junior at Lancaster High School.

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