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Theatre IV's "Ramona Quimby" launches a new star. 

Unequivocally Quimby

Sometimes the narrowest shoulders end up carrying most of the weight. That's certainly the case in Theatre IV's latest production, "Ramona Quimby." In a cast featuring actors who have played such difficult roles as Hamlet, Nina in "The Seagull," and Uncle Peck in "How I Learned to Drive," it is a 10-year-old making her stage debut who is forced to do most of the heavy lifting. As Ramona Quimby, Caitlin Gallagher almost single-handedly saves this show from a scatter-gun script, making "Ramona" a delightful diversion filled with small pleasures. Of course, it isn't just Gallagher who snatches success from the jaws of failure. The pint-size, pig-tailed actress gets a great deal of help from director Jan Guarino. Guarino does what she can to inject energy into Len Jenkin's uneven script, adapted from the popular Beverly Cleary books. The playwright tries to make the case that even common, daily occurrences are worthy of dramatic representation, a rather boring proposition if Guarino Hadn't made the simple things — like Ramona talking on the phone or a waitress taking a food order — into a cause for chuckles. The director makes the most of the Empire Theater by turning one set of second-story box seats into an apartment balcony and one of the side stages into a life-size surrogate for a TV set. And she recruited stage vet Catherine Shaffner who uses her comic magic to bring to life three of the show's secondary roles. But it is Gallagher who spends the most time in the spotlight, and she seems born to thrive there. Cute without being cloying, mischievous without being mean, Gallagher's Ramona is just a regular kid, one that every single child in the audience can relate to. Her tribulations are not out of the ordinary. She must face a stern third-grade teacher (Shaffner) who ends up suspending her from school due to a misunderstanding. Her dad (Gordon Bass) loses his job, forcing her mom (Susan Sanford) to find work. And her beloved Aunt Beatrice (Erin Thomas-Istrate) gets engaged and prepares to move to Alaska. Ramona's sister, Beezus (Allison Reus), acts as the show's narrator, and the sisters' squabbles become part of the action. While 11-year-old Reus is also precociously poised on stage, the script reduces the Beezus role from the Cleary books to one of second banana. This is unfortunate because it robs the story of some of the dramatic tension that could come from the sibling rivalry. Guarino's design team has done an exquisite job, particularly set designer Terrie Powers who creates a finely detailed landscape that still manages to have a suburban uniformity. It provides the perfect backdrop for the arrival of a promising new talent, one who is capable of making the mundane
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