Haddonfield Plays and Players, Haddonfield, NJ

My sister-in-law, Kristina, keeps me educated in the world of theater right here in New Jersey. Most of the time when I think of the theater, I think about taking the train into the city and attempting to get cheap tickets in the TKTS line. I think of 8 pm showtimes, which means not getting home until midnight, and about choosing the perfect restaurant for dinner and making sure we have early enough reservations. I often forget that right in our own yard we have talented actors in playhouses charging a fraction of the cost for productions on their way to Broadway caliber.

This year, my lovely SIL is in the Haddonfield Plays and Players production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown! Though I was happy she scored the role, my initial thought was that it would be awkwardly strange to see grown adults pretending to be little cartoon children.

If you are thinking this too, erase this thought completely from your mind.

Premiering tonight at their playhouse off Atlantic Avenue in Haddonfield, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown brings the classic Schulz comic strip to life before your eyes. I was fortunate to be able to participate in their “Social Media Night” where I got not only a sneak peek of the entire show, but I also was able to live tweet and snap as many pictures as I wanted.

Boy, do I wish I brought my DSLR with me that night. That’ll teach me for not taking it everywhere I go. Please forgive me for camera quality and enjoy your own sneak peek of the show.

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Before I even approach the show itself or the acting, let’s talk set. The artistry and design behind the scenery is impeccable. There are portraits of four of the six main characters (Linus, Sally, Schroeder, and Lucy) two on each side of the stage. If you look closely at the steps below Schroeder, you’ll see that they cleverly painted them to be his piano. The actors portraying these characters will occasionally give monologues in front of their portrait, and sometimes entire scenes will be acted out there.

What makes these background images so interesting is that not only are they portraits, but they actually become pieces of scenery when the actors open them up.

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No longer is the portrait of Linus next to Sally, but now we have a piece of the baseball diamond that will be used in a scene in the second act.

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There are additional props throughout, Snoopy’s doghouse included, which give an instantaneous comic strip feel. The school bus, above, that Charlie Brown just can’t seem to catch up with, is brought on with such smoothness and constructed with such artistry, that aside from the two dimensional flatness, it actually brings about the presence of a school bus on stage.

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Not even ten minutes into the show, Lucy (played by my SIL, Kristina Lunetta) starts messing with Charlie Brown in classic Lucy fashion. From this point we are taken to moments of nostalgia for any Charlie Brown fan; whether it be Charlie covering his face with a paper bag, Lucy sitting on Schroeder’s piano talking while he continues playing or even the wah-wah-wah-wah-wah of the parents’ voices.

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Linus, played by Greg Hedler, was possibly my favorite character. His lisp was spot on, and his song “My Blanket & Me” not only stole the show away, but had me truly convinced that the actor had a deep rooted connection to his blanket.

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It was after Linus’ song that I realized this show, written by Clark M. Gesner, wasn’t going to be the awkward adult depiction of the Peanuts comic strip as I had feared. Instead, each scene travels you through the Sunday morning Peanuts comics of the 1960s. The songs help to give depth to the scenes, while still preserving the same personalities and mannerisms of each unique character.

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The director, Megan Knowlton Balne, clearly had a vision for this show. She cast the most perfect actors for every role. Sally, played by Emily McHale, made us feel the Shakespearean tragedy that is her life. Schroeder, played by Tommy Balne, gave the clear singular focus of being an musician dedicated to his craft. Even Snoopy, played by Beatrice Alonna Hemmings, behaved exactly as one would expect Snoopy to behave if he became human. While I expected to, again, find it odd that not only was a human playing a dog, but also a human was speaking for the dog, I was impressed with how Snoopy’s brief monologues only helped us to better understand the inner workings of Snoopy’s mind.

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And Charlie Brown…ah, Charlie Brown. He gave us that I-can’t-do-anything-right presence that Charlie always has, no matter where he is or what he is doing.

Charlie, played by Jake Hufner, was a sincere Charlie Brown. He presented Charlie Brown exactly as he is, a little boy who we all can relate to at one time or another. Someone who is excited to receive valentines, who dreams of a cute girl with red hair and who loves his dog.

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By the way, the Red Baron makes an appearance.

Oh yes.

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There was a sense of love for the comic strip in the room from the audience to the actors. Each actor clearly embraced their character down to facial expressions, voice inflection (including yells) and presence of being.

I may or may not have teared up once or twice during “The Doctor is In” and the final song “Happiness…” where the simple things of life that we most often forget to focus on are emphasized.

If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, you don’t want to miss this one. Visit Haddonfield Plays and Players and order them today. Dates are listed below:

  • Friday, October 23 at 8:00pm (Opening night!)
  • Saturday, October 24 at 8:00pm
  • Sunday, October 25 at 2:00pm
  • Wednesday, October 28th at 8:00pm (Mid-week special)
  • Friday, October 30 at 8:00pm
  • Saturday, October 31 at 8:00pm
  • Sunday, November 1 at 2:00pm
  • Friday, November 6 at 8:00pm
  • Saturday, November 7 at 8:00pm

And when you see that bully, Lucy van Pelt, give her an extra cheer. She’s my sister and deep down, when all is said and done, she’s a nice girl at heart.

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