No Kidding Around with Illiteracy

Children’s theater troupe takes on tough topic with Salt and Pepper

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2012

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Josephine Elwood and Simon Pincus spice up the play’s core relationship in the title roles of Pepper and Salt.
Josephine Elwood and Simon Pincus spice up the play’s core relationship in the title roles of Pepper and Salt.

Imagine a world where you couldn’t read road signs, letters from your daughter look like gibberish, and bank bills are a headache-inducing riddle. This is the harsh reality for the patriarch of a family in Kidding Around’s performance of José Cruz González’s play Salt and Pepper.

Kidding Around is an Emerson troupe dedicated to children’s theater. They often perform their shows for elementary and middle school kids, and their productions often have an educational theme behind them. Monday night’s performance brought some parents and their children to the Little Building Cabaret.

Natalie Bruno, director of the play and president of the troupe, chose the material because of its subject matter, illiteracy. Her mother, an English teacher, raised her to pay careful attention to this pressing issue.

“I’m passionate about literacy, and I think everyone should have the opportunity to grow,” said Bruno, a junior theater education major. 

Salt and Pepper is a coming-of-age story about Salt, played by freshman marketing communication major Simon Pincus, a 10-year-old boy whose perceptions of his grandfather, played by freshman perfomring arts major Paul McGlew, are shattered when he learns his grandfather cannot read. 

Although Salt has a wild imagination, he is held back by his inability to read. At first, he is brought up to believe he doesn’t need a formal education. However, as the play progresses, Salt is exposed to the harsh realities of illiteracy as he watches his grandfather’s struggle.

“This play is all about communication and understanding,” said Pincus. “I had to think back to a time when I was first exploring learning.” 

Before the cast started rehearsing, director Bruno had her actors list all the things they do in a day that required reading to emphasize the importance of the play’s theme.

Josephine Elwood, a freshman performing arts major, portrays Salt’s enemy-turned-best-friend, Pepper. Pepper can read. As the characters grow closer, she teaches him how to read and write letters to his older brother Andy, who is serving in the Marine Corps.

“She stresses the importance of passing on knowledge,” said Elwood. “[As actors] we really get to let loose and explore our characters, which leads to some beautiful moments between Salt and Pepper.”

Salt and Pepper often play by the local creek. These scenes embody the sweet innocence of childhood. They shoot each other with fake guns and shout at each other over trivial arguments. Their voices, exaggerated tones that sound like two kids on a sugar high, add to the play’s credulous simplicity.

Before the show, Kidding Around accepted donations in the form of books and money on behalf of Horizon’s for Homeless Children, a Massachusetts organization that gives children living in family shelters a chance at a better education. 

“It’s never too late to confront an issue with family,” said Pincus. “We can break cycles and we can make the next generation even greater.”