With Timmy Failure, the Oregon Children's Theatre Outsmarts Itself

A bestselling children’s book gets a world premiere stage adaptation from the Oregon Children’s Theatre. We like it—and that's maybe a problem.

By Ramona DeNies March 9, 2015

Photo credit: Oregon Children's Theatre

Children have short attention spans, right? I mean, that’s why cartoons have the velocity of carnival rides and toy aisles explode with Technicolor. 

On a sunny afternoon, then, filling a dark downtown theater with happy young butts means the play’s gotta be f-u-n, FUN. None of this picking apart plot lines, or questioning character development.

The Oregon Children’s Theatre knows this. From The Magic School Bus Live to Zombie in Love, OCT productions generally move fast and make with the slapstick.

But the company also has ambition: to be a big-name purveyor of original works. Hence 2006’s The Giver, which went on to worldwide stages, even Hollywood. And now, for OCT’s second act of world premiere-ing, its brainy adaptation of comic artist Stephan Pastis’s bestselling children’s book Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (runs through Mar 22).

Photo credit: Oregon Children's Theatre

And so the plot thickens. The set beckons. But the smarts threaten to lose the intended audience (for the book, that’s grades 3–8). Peel back the humor of Pastis’s Timmy Failure series—complete with polar bear sidekick—and you have big existential questions: What is success? How do we navigate loneliness? Why do we choose our enemies?

As Timmy, Action/Adventure Theater’s Pat Moran plays the titular delusional kid detective with the misfit swagger and age-inappropriate eloquence that Pastis (who approved OCT’s script) intended. But it’s this sophisticated repartee that may ultimately limit the play—attended, the day I was there, by children aged toddler to tween.

Do I feel strange suggesting that a play dial back wit, of all things? You betcha. But over the course of the play, such winking knowingness—when, for example, Timmy tosses off pearls of philosophy to an offstage classmate (actress Katie Michels)—led to a palpably thinned interest among the attending youngsters. There was fidgeting, a hint of sullenness. It was as if adults had crept into the room, intruding on playtime. 

Put another way: with its slyness, sadness, and finely wrought script, I very much enjoyed Timmy Failure. And that’s, just maybe, a problem.

Timmy Failure
Thru Mar 22 at the Winningstad

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