Ashley Astor and the Robot Ray Caper, Corn Productions, at the Cornservatory. The trouble with children's shows is that most of them are written by adults. The trouble with adults is that they think children's shows have to teach simpy little Life Lessons. And that's the trouble with this new children's musical by an adult named Kristen Freilich. Ashley Astor might have been a great, funky--though glaringly outdated--satire on after-school specials if it didn't have such a powerful urge to be an after-school special.
Centered on an eighth-grade misfit who has to climb out from under her father's Bill Gates-ish notoriety even as she rescues him from kidnappers, the show gives off a kitschy-hip aroma redolent of the old Organic Theater. There's a pair of servants who hula knowingly around the action; a pair of mad scientists who chortle knowingly through their nefarious plans; and a robot (Andy Grigg, looking remarkably like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo) who deadpans knowingly as he catches evildoers in his amazing hypnotic ray. These elements provide a lot of funny, endearingly loose moments.
But those moments come to a dead stop every time Freilich feels compelled to reinforce the Life Lesson, which has to do with self-esteem. It's amazing that someone as fundamentally witty as she is can lose all sense of irony when the obligation to moralize overtakes her. It's as if she were subject to some hypnotic ray.