The classic fairytale Little Red Riding Hood heads West

Outside Hood Junction, a loop of a town smaller than a dot on the map, Granny has just botched a batch of baked goods. Flustered, she calls on Little Red and her horse riders to help deal with her cookie crisis.

Meanwhile, in town, the villainous big, bad “B.B.” Wolf and his gang will do anything to expand the railroad westward, even if it means throwing Granny and her cookie business under the tracks. Will the newly appointed sheriff, Charming Charlie (a.k.a. the Handsome Huntsman), save the day?

Channeling her inner child in her first attempt at playwrighting and her third play as children’s theater director for Theatre in the Grove, Michelle Friend adapts a fairytale classic — "Little Red Riding Hood" — into a jaunty western.

Performed and operated entirely by members of Theatre in the Grove's CAST student drama workshop, all age 18 and under, Theatre in the Grove presents “Lil Red & the Riders in the Hood” or, “How Hood Junction Became a Junction and Got Themselves a Sheriff” (like any good melodrama, it's got two names) for a final weekend of performances Friday, Aug. 31 through Sunday, Sept. 2.

“I wanted to introduce a classic genre to a new generation,” said Friend of her clever, three-act western melodrama that took her just two days to create. As a kid the Texas native grew up on Westerns. Now, combining a love for writing and theater, she reads lots of children’s books. “I love working with children — it’s been a treat,” she said.

Though the hour-long, interactive performance is complete with a range of talents that include a star-spangled-banner solo, a cowgirl poet laureate, a pair of “jumpin’ jokers,” a spittin’ contest, and a sing-a-long birthday dedication opener celebrating the 100 year-old theatre — Friend says she kept the play simple.

Kids only had two weeks to rehearse, so to make memorizing lines easier Friend stocked her screenplay with rhymes, alliteration and wordplay. “As an artist and writer, you get to see what you’ve imagined, created,” said Friend. “It’s a rare opportunity for any playwright to get to see their work performed.”

But Friend also wrote the play because of the money involved. That is, no money at all.

“I wrote this play because there are no royalties," Friend said.

While children pay to attend CAST’s theater program during the school year, in the summer those in the area can take part in CAST Playhouse productions for free. However the operating budget for the program, funded solely by donations, grants and ticket sales, is tight.

Royalties paid to outside playwrights become the most costly expense.

“I don’t want to deny children an opportunity to be on stage,” said Friend. Writing an original script keeps Theatre in the Grove’s summer program free for kids.

Typically, CAST performs two plays every summer, a musical and a non-musical. Earlier this summer, the group performed the musical, "Annie Jr." Previously, Friend directed "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" and "Charlotte’s Web."

Friend has lived in Forest Grove for three years now, and by no means is she the only thespian in her family. Her husband acted in Theatre in the Grove’s "Chicago," while for the past two years, her two teenage sons have been involved in the children’s theater programs.

All three have helped Friend ensure her first script is a success. “I think it’s a really fun play,” said Friend, “I hope people would come to see it and enjoy it just for the kids.”

She also can’t help but encourage folks to donate. “I just think it’s important to support live, local theatre. Some of them are living their dream out there tonight.”

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