The Whipping Boy, Griffin Theatre Company. Sid Fleischer's Newbery Award-winning 1986 novel, a lightweight variation on Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, has been turned into an unpretentious hour-long kids' show by playwright William Massolia and director Richard Barletta, who've resisted the temptation to pad the slim story and created a brisk little play about a bratty royal who runs away from home, taking with him the street urchin employed as his proxy for punishment. This low-budget, easily movable Whipping Boy (playing various libraries this month as well as at Griffin Theatre's Andersonville home) is engaging and energetic. Heading the cast are teenager David Jenkins, disarmingly direct as the hero Jemmy, and boyish Kevin Farrell, who clowns amusingly as the pouty Prince Horace. The main flaw is that too many offstage events reduce the episodic action to a tedious series of entrances and exits.
Most interesting is that, in contrast to many children's plays, this one's decidedly un-PC story affirms the value of corporal discipline. Prince Horace, protected from spankings, shirks his lessons and is rude to his parents, while the frequently flogged Jemmy is bright, educated, and well behaved, saving the prodigal prince from highwaymen, Gypsies, and a dancing bear. When Horace is mistaken for Jemmy and given a well-deserved thrashing, he comes away the better, ready to take responsibility for himself and to become Jemmy's friend. It's a refreshing lesson, especially in a holiday season geared to the commercial indulgence of children's selfishness.