As a parent of a newly-minted tween, it’s difficult to know how to approach the topic of bullying. Despite all the how-to lists on broaching hard topics, the amount of bandwidth my daughter actually gives to my “helpful” chatter seems to be shrinking. Taking my 11-year-old daughter to Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of Crash was a refreshing step away from sermonizing.
This world premiere production is based on the novel by Newbery-medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli. Y York’s clever adaptation offered not only a layered look at bullying, but good humor, pleasing sets and believable characters.
The play centers on the main character Crash Coogan (Quinn Franzen), a star football player who knows adoration at his middle school but struggles to gain the attention of his busy parents. His former friend and neighbor Penn Webb (Rio Codda) is both the target of his bullying and someone who has what Crash craves: the full interest of his parents and the friendship of the new, attractive middle-school girl. When Crash learns Penn is trying to make the Penn Relays team in honor of his great grandfather, Crash decides to race Penn and win the spot for himself.
What I liked about Crash’s quest was how it’s about more than taking the spot from his former friend. Winning the race is also a way for Crash to grab his dad’s work-focused vision. But wait, there’s more. Add in sibling rivalry with Crash’s sister Abby (Emily Chisholm), who is furious at Crash for being mean to Penn. And there’s a new middle school boy named Mike (Adam Standley), someone who uses the activity of teasing Penn to cement his new bond with Crash.
The last layer to this well-thought out play is the heart-grabber. Crash’s beloved grandfather comes to town and suffers a stroke after Crash tackles him during a backyard football game. Lest you think this sounds too dire, know this play is rich with humorous moments. Examples include sister Abby’s quest to turn her mother’s backyard into a native habitat for mice and other creatures and Crash’s absurd purchase of sparkling red heels for his grandfather’s birthday at a second hand store. Even one of the story’s main threads about the capture of Penn’s beloved turtle is rife with light moments and laughter.
The recommended age for Crash is 8 and older, and I’d say this recommendation is spot on. The heavy moments are short and worthy of later discussion and Crash’s evolution from bully to friend makes the story a nice tale for the younger set. Since my daughter is off to middle school next year, it felt quite natural to talk after the show about how life doesn’t always follow art’s tidiness. Of course, my daughter and I gave equal chatter time to our love of the well-crafted and colorful stage set.
If you go …
Where and when: Crash plays at the Seattle Children’s Theatre through May 19.
Tickets: Up to $36. Buy online.
Parental guidelines: The show is recommended for children age 8 and up.
Writer, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of a memoir. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two elementary-age daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words.