Monday, March 5, 2012

"Coco's Diary" at the History Theatre

Coco's Diary* is an adaptation of the recently discovered diary of a 13-year-old named Clotilde Irving who grew up in a mansion on Summit Avenue in the 1920s, the same mansion that now serves as the Governor's Mansion.  While her life in 1927 was probably pretty atypical, the daughter of a wealthy and privileged family, her experiences, thoughts, and manner of speaking are quite familiar to anyone who's ever been 13.  Coco reminds me of my 13-year-old cousin; everything is so dramatic, it's either the best thing that's ever happened, or the worst.  There is no in between when you're 13.  Coco was smart, precocious, charming, and a talented writer.  It's no surprise that the History Theatre chose to bring this story to life; it's a great story set in a specific time and place in Minnesota history, but it's also a universal story of the trials and tribulations of growing up.

The play begins in 1965 when Coco's mother dies, leaving her and her older brother Tom to sort through the house.  Coco discovers her diary and delights in reading it and remembering that time in her life, which mostly involved dancing, boys, and getting into and out of trouble.  Only after reading the diary is Coco able to say good-bye to the house.  Three actors bring this story to life through reading the diary and reenacting the scenes:

  • Kacie Riddle (herself 13 years old) plays the young Coco.  It's amazing to me that someone so young can so handily carry a two-hour play.  Yes she has help from two very talented adult actors, but she is Coco, in all of her moods - funny, charming, dramatic, hopeful, despondent, and lively.
  • Andrea Wollenberg (one of the hilariously evil stepsisters in Cinderella) is the adult Coco, as well as Coco's mother, Coco's younger sister, and several other characters.  Whether she's walking around on her knees and talking with a lisp, or sternly reprimanding Coco for her latest exploit, she brings great life to these different characters.  And she has a lovely voice!
  • Jake Endres plays Coco's brother Tom, both the 1965 and the 1927 versions.  He also portrays her father, teacher, and any other characters needed for the story.  Jake also acts as the music director and accompanies much of the action on piano, as well as singing songs of the day in his beautifully deep voice.  I love plays that add music to the story-telling.  It's not a full-blown musical, but the music adds to the story and helps set the scene, especially because Coco is so obsessed with dancing.
The diary was adapted for the stage by Bob Beverage and Artistic Director Ron Peluso (who also directs).  The dialogue sounds as if it comes directly from the diary; I'm curious to read it and compare (the diary has been published in the book Through No Fault of My Own).  I also want to know what happens next in her life, which makes me wonder, was 1927 the only year that Coco kept a diary?  Or just the only one that survived?  (Read this article in the StarTribune to find out what happened to Coco.  Warning: it's not quite the happy ending we might hope for, but such is life.)  The set (by Rick Polenek) looks like what the inside of a Summit Avenue Mansion should, and I'm tempted to take a tour of the real thing.

Coco's Diary plays at the History Theatre in St. Paul now through March 25.  It's a delightful look at what is was like to be 13 in 1927, which it turns out is not so different from today.

*I received two complementary tickets to attend the opening night of Coco's Diary.