FOUND A PEANUT, Alley Pond Ensemble, at Factory Theater. Since the games of pinners and fast pitch I played growing up in Rogers Park could never serve as metaphors for capitalism and human mortality, I've always been distrustful of plays that sum up every adult crisis in an hour on the playground. Donald Margulies's coming-of-age drama Found a Peanut, in which adult actors play prepubescents, effectively demonstrates the parallels between childhood and adulthood. The play begins well, as an abandoned marbles game and an aborted club meeting rather cleverly foreshadow the ephemerality of adult friendships and business allegiances. But it quickly wears out its welcome as Margulies overreaches and stereotypes, rendering disingenuous what is clearly intended to be an unblinkingly realistic view of the playground. Cramming his 90-minute play with hackneyed characters (the awkward nebbish, the wide-eyed child, the school-yard bullies) and portentous plot elements (a funeral for a dead bird and an all-out brawl resulting from the discovery of buried money), Margulies winds up with little more credibility than the author of an after-school special or an episode of The Wonder Years.
Except for the two menacing frat-boy types tapped to play the bullies, Alley Pond Ensemble's cast captures both the subtle wit and hit-you-over-the-head symbolism of Margulies's play. Watching adults jump up and down onstage like ten-year-olds tends to make me queasy--as if I'm watching an aggression therapy session instead of a play--but the actors do a pretty convincing job, especially Jill Towsley, who gives the play's most moving performance as a shy, overweight eight-year-old who dreads going to school.