Book comes to life at festival

Published 2:10 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A children’s theater adaptation of the book The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling will be presented as part of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival at Longwood University.

Stephanie Howieson, an adjunct instructor in Longwood’s theatre program, asked to adapt and direct the story after learning that the author, MaryRose Wood, is among the children’s authors who will attend the festival, hosted by Longwood. The 30-minute adaptation, free and open to the public, will be performed Saturday, Oct. 15, at 10:15 a.m. in Jarman Auditorium.

“This is a delightful story, set in Victorian England, about a 15-year-old governess who has been hired by an estate to take care of three kids found in the forests of Ashton Place,” said Howieson. “The lord of the manor who caught them wants her to teach them things — like English and how not to eat squirrels.”

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The audience will be on the stage with the actors, so that they’re “right up in the action,” said Howieson. The cast features Dr. Terri Sabatos, associate professor of art history, and nine Longwood students.

“The students are enjoying it because they have some acting challenges like wearing corsets and behaving like animals,” said Howieson. “One of the characters is a squirrel named Nutsawoo. The kids put a ‘woo’ on the end of words because they were raised by wolves.”

The Mysterious Howling is the first book in Wood’s six-part series. Howieson called Wood, whose background is the theater, a “wonderful” writer.

“The first book in a series is the best to adapt, and this is a funny book,” said Howieson. “When Terri read the book, she immediately said, ‘I’m getting the next one.’ The governess — Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females — has a wonderful can-do attitude and doesn’t even bat an eye when she meets these children, who Lord Frederick has named Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia — ABC. It’s a very cartoony children’s book, and I mean that in a good way.”

Howieson, who had to obtain Wood’s permission to stage the adaptation, called children’s theater her “second love,” after Shakespeare. “I like doing plays for young people, especially if it is their first theater experience. They’re a very receptive audience,” said Howieson.