Sideways Stories from Wayside School (Review)

Know Theatre's strange and silly stories don't quite add up

I really wanted to like Know Theatre’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School. It’s a new “family-friendly” show for the holidays, but it could be presented anytime. There’s nary a sprig of holly or a “Bah, humbug” in sight. (There is a scary teacher who could use a few lessons from the spirits who straightened out Scrooge.) Reading about this play, I expected to have a good time watching it.

Know has assembled a talented cast who work hard to bring to life a collection of strange and silly stories from Louis Sachar’s books for kids about a school that’s 30 stories tall due to an architectural mistake. Most of the action is on the top floor with the students in Mrs. Gorf’s classroom, performed with animated vitality by Chris Wesselman, Alison Vodnoy, Annie Kalahurka, Catherine Prevett and Darnell Benjamin. Dylan Shelton plays the evil teacher with cackling acidity. Once she’s inadvertently disposed of, the kids learn more oddball lessons from her kindly replacement, Mrs. Jewls (Liz Vosmeier), and Louis (Joshua Murphy), the playground supervisor.

But ultimately I found myself bored with 90 minutes of forced zaniness. A few in the Dec. 3 audience were tickled (no children were present), but many seemed stifled by the loud, repetitive humor: The kids scream (in the manner of Home Alone) whenever Mrs. Gorf’s name is mentioned. The first act concludes with five minutes of chasing around and shouting. Even for young audiences, frantic doesn’t necessarily equate to entertaining.

Some scenes are great fun, especially when the vivacious Miss Valoosh (Breona Conrad) pops in to teach everyone to tango. Guest director Jason Ballweber creatively uses two performers in ninja black to “invisibly” move props and write messages on a blackboard. Yet the arithmetic at Wayside School simply doesn’t add up to a funny, engaging evening.

SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through Dec. 26. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.