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by Karen Topham

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Adapted by Anthony Whitaker

At: The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: $25;; 773-935-6875. Runs through: Sept. 29

One of the most endearing characters from L. Frank Baum's Oz stories is the little patchwork girl.

New American Folk Theatre's production of Anthony Whitaker's original story Scraps tells her tale in a bright, inventive way. Directed by Jamal Howard, the play combines The Patchwork Girl of Oz with several other books ( notably those dealing with Ozma and the Land of Ev ) and makes grand use of an ensemble of eight actors playing multiple roles.

Scraps ( Brittney Brown ), like Baum's Tin Man ( who makes an appearance ), lacks a heart. In the book, she is a companion to the main character, Ojo the Unlucky ( Preston Choi ), in a search for a magical cure. Here, tired of her dull and repetitive life ( shown in a brilliant opening ), Scraps decides to ( literally ) go where the wind may take her to find out what she is "meant" to be.

Choi and the rest of the talented ensemble ( including JD Caudill, Kelly Combs, Jeffrey Hoge, Charlie Irving, Vic Kuligosky, and Kelsey Shipley ) are ultimately there to support Scraps on her journey, one which children may enjoy as much as adults. Many of the side characters here are also or have been in search of the real meanings in their own lives. Ojo is desperately in love with Prince Evring ( Kuligoski ), who wants to requite his love but feels trapped by royal obligations. Dorothy ( Irving again ), now a Princess of Oz, doesn't quite understand what her life is supposed to amount to, but spends a great deal of it in an affair with Princess Ozma ( Caudill ), a transgender ruler ( "part boy and part girl" ) who doesn't quite know whether she is in the right place as a princess either. ( Alhough the same-sex relationships are not in the Oz books, Ozma's backstory is. ) Even an enchanted book spends the play comically searching for the truth of its existence.

In the title role, Brown is entirely endearing. Despite spending the majority of the play with her face hidden behind a mask, her ebullience and energy shine through, making Scraps ( whom some of the others consider a bit of a joke ) a fully developed person in her own right, despite what she might believe. In someone else's hands, the role might have become caricature, but Brown is careful to take Baum's unusual creation as seriously Scraps takes herself.

With beautiful costumes by Zachary Ryan Allen and fun puppetry by Whitaker, along with Howard's quick pacing and this cast's clear joy of performance, Scraps is an enjoyable couple of hours. ( The play's first act could be somewhat truncated and the intermission eliminated to get it down to an hour and a half, which is probably what the material demands. ) It's unfortunate that, the night I saw it, very few people were in the audience. Inventive and fun, Scraps deserves better than the, um, scraps left over from other shows. Its warm-hearted message, campy style and strong acting make it a good choice for the entire family.

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