It's exceedingly rare for a movie to be turned into a play, and many of the reasons for that are on display in Holes, now at the Karamu Performing Arts Theatre. Written by Louis Sachar, the man who won awards for the original young people's novel and the Disney movie adaptation of the same name, this theatrical version cannot sort out the multiple story lines and eccentric flourishes that made the book and flick so enjoyable.
The major plotline is developed around young Stanley Yelnats (that's Stanley spelled backward), who has been sent to a detention camp in the desert for supposedly stealing a pair of super-expensive athletic shoes. He struggles to ingratiate himself with the other young dudes incarcerated there, where they all share the daily chore of digging holes in the desert.
The problems plaguing this production appear quickly. Stanley believes his family is cursed because his great-great-grandfather pissed off a gypsy fortune-teller, Madame Zeroni. So we have flashback scenes involving her that don't really track, since the cinematic touches that help explicate time and place in the movie aren't available. Then the second act begins with another flashback involving an interracial affair and the murders it spawns.
Confused yet? We haven't even addressed the mystery of the buried suitcase and . . . well, never mind. Adding to the lack of clarity is director Hassan Rogers' decision to cast the entire show with young, college-age actors. This gives the entire production the feel of an extended skit put on by a group of enthusiastic day-camp counselors.
In the role of Stanley, hefty Ethan Rosenfeld has a fairly interesting Jonah Hill (the lumpy, loud kid in Superbad) kind of vibe, when he isn't staring at the floor. But Rogers imposes little discipline on his young players, which leads to slack pacing and many interchanges that feel improvised, although not in a good way. The lone exception is Durand Ferebee, as delinquent Zigzag, who is lithe and funny, and probably deserves his own show.
Sadly, many of the laudable themes of the original work, including Stanley's friendship with illiterate fellow inmate Zero, are bulldozed in this theatrical pile-up.