The Phantom Tollbooth, ComedySportz. Norton Juster’s classic 1961 children’s novel about why learning is important–and fun–loses much of its wit and whimsy in this ComedySportz family-matinee production. Susan Nanus’s adaptation, which is usually performed by young people, is done here by adults and ends up being too sophisticated for younger children and too juvenile for the 8-to 12-year-olds at whom it’s aimed, not to mention any parents in the audience.
The ideas are complex. Milo (Jamie Newland) is bored, interested in nothing until the day he receives a tollbooth in the mail. The gift leads him into an alternate universe where the princesses Rhyme and Reason have been banished, creating chaos in both Dictionopolis (the land of words) and Digitopolis (the land of numbers). Milo and his companion Tock the watchdog (Robyn Norris) must rescue the princesses, in the process learning about algebra, the relative nature of time, and the perils of letting others dictate one’s thinking.
Children who love the book will probably enjoy seeing their favorite characters onstage and clever bits dramatized, like the diners who must literally eat their words. The plodding ensemble has one bright spot: Katherine Gotsick as the pugilistic Spelling Bee, who dares those she meets to challenge her with tough words.