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‘Friendship Express’ runs local for kids

In a rare afternoon performance, The Children's Theater Company of the Black Spectrum Theater presented The Friendship Express last Thursday for a bunch of very enthusiastic but well-behaved and patient (the performance was about 20 minutes late) school children.

Just before the performance started, Carl Clay, Black Spectrum executive director, announced that Suzanne Douglas, a star of "The Parent Hood," wouldn't be there as scheduled, but that she "sends her best" and would reschedule her appearance.

Clay then asked the kids about friendship. Most had a best friend, some kids had a pen pal, but when Clay asked what a fair weather friend was, one intrepid little girl piped up, "It's a friend who's dressed up."

"I'm glad you don't know what a fair weather friend is," Clay said sympathetically. But the play would let her know soon enough.

The Friendship Express opens with best friends Rick and Bird coming to terms with Rick's impending move. The unhappy Bird, played with a bouncy sweetness by Children's Theater Company director Iris Good, sets about looking for a new best friend.

At first she makes up a sign and walks around advertising, but all the other kids laugh at her. Then she hooks up with a boy named Tart who uses her - - he makes her give him her last dollar for a cold drink, then makes her run back to school and pick up his bookbag, and just generally thinks of her as stupid.

"It makes me wanna holler, when your friends just want you for your dollar!" Bird wails.

She then tries to befriend a dog named Moochie, but the dog belongs to a little old lady. But before Moochie returns to her mistress she gives Bird a slip of paper instructing her how to summon the Friendship Express.

When she does, by pressing the traffic light button, an actual train shows up. The conductor tells her that Moochie had submitted her name for the ride.

The first stop is the Land of Acquaintance, populated by a bunch of snooty kids carrying paper mache masks who ask loudly, "Wha's up?" and go on about their business. Bird leaves this place quickly.

The next stop is Best Friend Land, where everyone is everyone's best friend. But it's here that Bird is tested. She flunks when she refuses to share her Kit Kat bar and betrays a confidence. She's kicked out of Best Friend land.

When she finds a box of gold coins on her way home she thinks she can buy friends. Her theory works for a while, until a hurricane blows in and everyone runs away. In a hilarious scene a boy struggles over to Bird through the fierce wind. Bird and the audience think he's coming to help; instead, he swipes her box of doubloons and splits.

At the end, of course, Bird makes not one but two best friends, and now has Rick as a pen pal!

The Friendship Express was bright and funny without being preachy. The kids had a great time.

The Black Spectrum Theater is at 177th Street and Baisley Boulevard in St. Albans. Call 723-1800 for upcoming productions.

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