At Childsplay’s Wayside School, the fun promises to be 30 stories high

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The academic year is well underway, and if your kids are having a hard time adjusting to their school, maybe they need a taste of Wayside School to put things in perspective.

After all, Wayside School is 30 stories high (though it has no 19th floor), with only one classroom per floor. More disturbingly than this architectural eccentricity, however, is the ability of a certain teacher to change misbehaving students into apples.

Dreamed up back in the late ‘70s by children’s author Louis Sachar, Wayside School has been chronicled in three popular books for children, notably Sideways Stories from Wayside School (1978), Wayside School is Falling Down (1989) and the impossible-sounding Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger (1995).

Sachar also created two whimsical math-related volumes, Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School (1989) and More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School (1994).

Now Valley audiences can savor the strangeness of Wayside School as live theater, when Childsplay presents John Olive’s theatrical adaptation of Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

The production, which features such Valley vets as Katie McFadzen, Debra K. Stevens and Angelica Howland, “combines elements from different books,” according to director Dwayne Hartford, though it takes its title from the first of the three tomes.

“The world of Sideways Stories is weird and wacky. Trying to create some of those moments is challenging,” admits Hartford.

“We spent a bit of time trying to figure out how to show Miss Zarves. I think our ultimate solution, while different from the book’s, will be appropriately fun, weird and just a little bit scary.”

Hartford has been solving theatrical challenges for 23 years at Childsplay, where he is Associate Artist and Playwright in Residence.

The Maine native studied musical theater at the Boston Conservatory and directing at Boston University, and his own plays, which range from the teen-suicide drama Eric & Elliot to the WWII-era drama The Color of Stars to a stage version of A Tale of Two Cities to the musical Rock the Presidents, have been produced throughout the country.

Having spent so much of his career in the children’s-theater field, Hartford has come to appreciate its advantages.

“What I love most about performing for young audiences is that young people are very honest. You know very quickly if they are into the show.”

This tough honesty is balanced, however, says Hartford, by an uninhibited imagination and responsiveness that adult audiences may lack—and that is a particular asset for visitors to the bizarre world of Wayside School.

Young theatergoers, says Hartford, “are very willing to go wherever the story takes them. I feel privileged to be able to create theatre for this audience.”

Sideways Stories from Wayside School is recommended for audiences 6 years old and up.

It runs Saturdays at 1 and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through Sunday, Oct. 18.

Call 480-350-2829 or go to tca.ticketforce.com for details.

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