U: The Unknown
Although each teenagers’ journey through adolescence differs widely, one thing is for sure: finding your place in this world…. well, it’s challenging. Just ask Greg Heffley, a teen comic icon brought to life in the Children’s Theatre Company production of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: it sucks.
I lost count on eye-rolling reactions to sharp and subtle jabs, mean-spirited exclusions, brutal popularity rankings and labels that even the audience wanted to assign to each character. It brought me right back to my middle school days in a heartbeat. It was a tough playground. Scenes and the story surrounding the “cheese touch” were dramatically executed and harkened back to game playing as a passive aggressive way to show your true feelings toward someone.
Greg stumbled around in his exploration, dealing with seemingly insurmountable issues like a doting mom, an sports-aspirational dad, a little brother who embarrassingly called him Bubby, a terrorizing older sibling, Rodrick, and a swooning friend, Rowley, who Greg vastly under-appreciated in true teen style. The audience cringed and commiserated along with Greg every step of the way as his miserable little existence played out.
Yet, it was so sweet. Sitting on either side of me, taking in the show, were my kids. Calvin, my 10 year-old, who I could nearly slip right into Greg’s shoes in a few years and Ava, my 12 year-old, who could witness her current 7th grade situation and the realness of it.
We all loved the performance, but for different reasons. I appreciated that Greg possessed the innocence of his age as well as the fluid emotions and struggle to not only do the right thing, but define it for himself through a series of hard-knocks. Ava connected with trying not to subscribe to mainstream beliefs, but finding that values and judgements are next to impossible to escape in middle school life and its close quarters (which begs the question, should we be teaching more empathy in our schools?). Calvin, owner of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, thought it was sheer comedic fun.
Sharing our reviews over a slice of pizza after the performance, we talked about the experience of the story from book to movie (see our 2011 review of Rodrick Rules) to musical. We unanimously agreed that the ever-changing set design, comedic craftiness — the backdrop a sheet of loose-leaf paper, the furniture, doors and props white with black piping and Greg and Rowley’s comedy strip creation process on paper played out onto a screen — were spot on. The exact comic strip, right down to the first one that echoes Greg’s onstage commentary about his mom buying the shamefully labeled “Diary,” when it really was just a journal, felt very true to the written series.
Highlights of storylines and performances included Rodrick’s masterfully delivered death threats, Rowley’s crush on teenage music icon, Joshie, the highly coveted “Mom Bucks” (monopoly money) and the reputation-ruining “Cheese Touch.” The characters creatively jumped off the Wimpy kid pages in posture, Greg with a hollowed out slouch stature and Rodrick with all of the slanky starkness of a teen in a darkened state.
The concept of Diary of a Wimpy Kid seems to hold the message that adolescence and all its challenges are normal — there are no exceptions nor can one get around it. You just have to go through it. So embrace it and pencil in a date to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Musical now through June 12. Your tweens and teens might roll their eyes, but this is one moment where you just say trust me. Well done, CTC and congratulations on 50 years!