Vineyard Playhouse brings Kate Feiffer book to stage

Emma (Danielle Hopkins) gets a push from Mom (Chelsea McCarthy) during rehearsal last Saturday.
File photo by Meg Higgins

Emma (Danielle Hopkins) gets a push from Mom (Chelsea McCarthy) during rehearsal last Saturday.

If the humor, pacing, and performances that shone during rehearsal this past Saturday are any indication, you would do well to beg, borrow, or bring a child of your own to Vineyard Playhouse this weekend. Kate Feiffer’s 2009 children’s book, “My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life” (Simon & Schuster/Weissman), has been smartly adapted to an hour-long, fast-paced frolic by Playhouse artistic director M.J. Bruder Munafo.

The play dramatizes the snap, crackle, and pop story of precocious Emma (Danielle Hopkins), all attitude and spunk, who explains to the audience that — as nice as her mom (the brilliant Chelsea McCarthy) might seem, all kisses, hugs, and cookies — she can provide at least five examples of how Mom is trying to ruin her life: talking too loud, coming into her classroom, and public kissing (eeech). Mom monitors what Emma eats (“You never let me eat anything I think is good for me”), and what Emma does (“She never lets me do anything fun because I might get hurt — which I won’t”).

The inspiration for the book came after Ms. Feiffer went to her daughter Maddy Alley’s classroom to bring her a pair of shorts (example number two of how Emma’s life is being ruined).

And despite his nice bedtime stories, Emma’s father (appealingly played by Christopher Kann), is also guilty of offenses, such as telling her to clean her room, which she’s sure is already clean, or to turn out the lights at 8 pm, when she’s not even tired.

“There you have it,” declares Emma to the audience. Being very resourceful and imaginative, she conjures a solution: Have them both arrested and carted off to jail for their parental crimes. “My life will be perfect, perfect, perfect,” Emma shouts.

Problem solved. Well, maybe, because later, when Emma gets hungry and calls out, “Mom. What’s for dinner?” perfect begins to develop flaws.

With scenery by Basia Jawarska Silva, music by Wes Nagy, a talented cast of 13 Island children and some of the Vineyard’s favorite actors (Jill Macy, Xavier Powers, and Adam Petkus), getting the most out of the adult characters, the production sparkles.

Last Saturday’s rehearsal was filled with laughter; everyone reacting to each other’s work. Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School student Danielle Hopkins, a natural on stage, knows just how to solicit a response while staying true to her character, and as her mom and dad, Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Kann deftly balance being loving, comedic, and embarrassing.

Ms. Feiffer had already been approached about having her book adapted for stage, but when she ran into Ms. Munafo, who adapted “Snow Queen,” and “Arthur’s Christmas,” to the stage, she asked her if she’d be interested in taking on the project. “The idea that it could be done here on the Island was thrilling,” Ms. Feiffer says, and as she read Ms. Munafo’s script: “By the time I got to the seventh page of M.J.’s script I realized that she got it — the tone and the humor — and she was able to translate it.” She continues, “For me, it was a dream collaboration.”

There were many decisions to make: Should it be cast with only children? Should it be a musical (it may eventually be made into one)? Should more characters be added?

The 32-page book, illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winner Diane Goode, has only three characters, but after the auditions brought out so many talented students, both scenes at school and secondary characters, such as the police officers, were selectively added.

“I’d give M.J. feedback, and she was amazing about incorporating things,” Ms. Feiffer says. “What happens to me is that I visualize something until it actually happens, then whatever was in my head dissipates.” She adds, “I love the adaption. I think it’s hilarious.”

“My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life,” 7 pm, Fridays, June 11, 18; Saturdays, June 12, 19, Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. $15; $10 children. 508- 696-6300; vineyardplayhouse.org.