Dallas — Children’s book readers first met “almost 6 years old” Junie B. Jones in Barbara Parks’ books. Parks introduced the character in 1992 and eventually authored a series of 28 similarly titled and tremendously popular books. June B. Jones is Not a Crook! is ninth in the series. Austin playwright Allison Gregory has adapted this story (with influences from Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren) for the stage, and the Dallas Children’s Theater offers its regional premiere, is directed by Nancy Schaeffer.
Junie B. (Mary McElree), pint-sized destroyer of grammar and syntax, is a precocious kindergartener who hates her middle name. As we enter the story, she is proudly showing off the furry black mittens given to her by Grampa (Karl Schaeffer) to her friends Grace (Jori Jackson) and Lucille (Erika Larsen). Junie B. hopes they will attract the attention of the handsome new boy at school, Warren (William Carleton) so he will fall in love with her. During recess someone stole Junie B.’s mittens. She is upset and when she later finds a colorful pen, Junie B. decides she should be able to keep it because ‘finders keepers’ is the rule. She thinks Warren will surely notice her new pen, but instead, Warren thinks she is nutty. The dilemma and learning opportunity for Junie B. is whether she should keep the pen, or turn it in to the lost-and-found.
This is not the first time McElree has portrayed this title character. She starred in the Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells production at DCT in 2012. The cast is energetic, a requirement for an ensemble piece that assigns multiple roles to the actors. They move blithely in and out of their characters without a bump, character voices and all. Brett Warner is spunky as Mother. Johnny Lee is Meanie Jim and a dastardly character that appears in the dream sequence. The cast’s synergy is exactly what the script requires.
Marco Salinas’ sound design is imaginative and like an invisible character at times. The set (Bob Lavallee) sprawls across the stage like a foldout page in a paper doll book. There is no separation between the colors of the set and the costumes (Lyle Huchton). The dream sequence could not work without Jason Lynch’s lighting. This DCT production team syncs very well, creating a wonderful environment for the action onstage.
This January, DCT has partnered with the S.M. Wright Foundation Beds for Kids program in creating an opportunity for DCT’s wee patrons to perform an act of kindness. There are more than 4,200 children on the organization’s waiting list for beds. DCT families are asked to donate an article of bedding—either a new blanket, twin-size bed sheets, or a pillow.
The children are learning, along with Junie B., the lesson that only giving can provide.