The story of four orphaned runaways and their heartwarming tale of survival takes the stage with “The Boxcar Children,” opening Friday at the Racine Theatre Guild.
The play is based on the popular children’s book written by elementary teacher Gertrude Chandler Warner. The book, which now features more than 150 titles in the series, was first introduced in 1942 and has since been adapted into an animated film and for the stage.
Struggling through the Great Depression, Henry (played by Petr Jaros), Jessie (Lilli Postuchow of Kenosha), Violet (Anika Pachniak) and Benny (Jaden Talley) are orphaned and in danger of going to different foster homes. The children run away and make a boxcar their home, while discovering the rewards and perils of life on the run, as well as the joy of keeping their family together.
The production is directed by Kara Ernst-Schalk.
“People talk about the story, remembering reading it to their kids,” said Joycelyn Fish, Racine Theatre Guild’s director of marketing and development. “There’s the nostalgia of it. It delivers the message that family is the most important thing. Even though these are young kids, they each bring something different to the table.”
Kenosha’s Erin Barnlund plays Sarah, a social worker who meets with the children before their disappearance.
“She feels guilty she didn’t do more for them,” Barnlund said. “She spends the entire show trying to find them and make things better. It kind of touches on kids and parents and everybody alike. These kids went from having a normal life to having that completely turned upside down due to a freak accident. They start over and rely on themselves and are kind of growing up in the the whole process.”
Each of the siblings has a different personality and talents. Violet, a shy 10-year-old and clean freak, provides some humorous moments with her messy, often ecstatic younger brother Benny throughout the play.
Pachniak, a fourth grade student at Racine’s Jefferson Lighthouse Elementary, auditioned for Violet’s role because she said the two share many similarities, from their personalities to their cleaning habits to their favorite color purple.
“I really enjoy Violet,” Pachniak said. “This show teaches kids and adults that family is important. The main thing is to stick together.”