San Antonio's Majik Theatre at Hemisfair Park
The Magik Children's Theatre's curtain opens to Room 207 at an elementary school, where the rowdiest, loudest, rudest and most misbehaved students are paying no attention to their teacher, Miss Nelson. She is a sweet, kind, soft-spoken educator. She asks her students to "please calm down" so she can read them a story. When her pupils stand on their desks, run around the classroom and throw rulers, Miss Nelson's blood pressure reaches its limit, and she runs into the principal's office for shelter from her educational nightmare..
Meanwhile, my three companions, Olivia, 8, her sister, Noelle, 6, and their mother Brandy wait to see what happens next. Olivia and Noelle sit on their knees, resting their chins and arms on the seats in front of them, trying to get closer to the stage. Their eyes are stuck on the classroom mayhem.
With Miss Nelson gone, the classroom door opens for the substitute teacher, Viola Swamp. She is a piece of work. Her crooked nose and protruding chin are covered with a smatter of warts. She's tough and strict. She yells, calling the class to order by loudly rapping her black baton on the desks. The students and audience jump to attention. Who is this ugly creature? Her pupils sit quietly, knowing she won't put up with bad behavior.
Swamp drills the class on their schoolwork, roundly bawls out the know-nothings, slams her baton on their desks again and again and assigns heavy overnight homework that would buckle the best of students. The audience breathes more easily when intermission begins.
A stagehand and one of the naughty students wearing a glow-in-the-dark, bright orange wig push the stage set 180 degrees on its circular track. Now instead of a classroom, we see the front of Miss Nelson's prim cottage. In the theater lobby, children juggle ice cream sundaes, popcorn and wrapped birthday presents for two honorees.
Back on stage at Miss Nelson's home, the once-misbehaved students try to find her before it's too late. They ask each other whether they will ever see their sweet teacher again. My friends, Olivia and Noelle, whisper between themselves as they wonder what happened to Miss Nelson. Her students dance and sing in front of her cottage, but "Miss Nelson Is Missing" (the play's title).
The story ends happily. The audience is taught an important lesson in classroom behavior. The show is over in about 50 minutes -- just long enough for youthful attention spans. Olivia and Noelle say they had a great time.
"Miss Nelson Is Missing" continues through Nov. 7, 2009. The theater is located at 420 S. Alamo St. in Hemisfair Park. Showtimes are Tuesday through Friday, 9:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and children. Phone: (210) 227-2751. No one is turned away because of an inability to buy tickets. The actors are paid employees.
The play is based on a book by Harry Allard and adapted for stage by Joan Cushing. Becky King is the local director and choreographer. The Magik Children's Theatre encourages literacy by producing only plays based on books children are reading in school. The theater, which opened in 1994, seats 600 people.
**Magik Theatre Miss Nelson Photos© 2009 David Frank_ArtGives
The Majik Theatre is located just across from The Fairmount Hotel at Hemisfair Park.