When Raleigh Little Theatre opened its production of OPQRS, ETC. in the Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre this weekend, it was clear that this was gong to be a big production. Standing at opposite corners of the room were two huge structures in the town of Ottoville, a hamlet in which the only official color is Orange. Exactly at center stage was a lovely fountain, gurgling a dark orange liquid into an orange flowerbed where only orange flowers bloomed.

All of this is at the command of Otto the Official, the town mayor, sheriff, judge, and jury. Otto (Jesse R. Gephart) is a rude and obnoxious sort of bully who demands that he, and only he, is ever right, and he, and only he, makes the rules. And the rules can change on a whim, so be careful. The townspeople are not even allowed outside the town limits, because, as Rozelle the Rebellious finds out, one could discover that there are more colors in the world than Otto’s Only Orange. Rozelle (Laura Levine) has discovered exactly that, and brings it back into town in the form of a lovely little blue flower, which she defiantly expects to present to Otto. This is the beginning of OPQRS, ETC.

Rozelle is met by her mother when she returns from “outside,” and Mom, Quilla the Quiet (Isabella Ibanez), immediately and fearfully hides the flower under a hat so that Otto might not see it. But Stacia the Silly (Olivia Bouzigard) has seen it, and Stacia would love for Otto to see this flower, because that would get Rozelle in trouble. See, Stacia the Silly loves Otto, but Otto has decided he wants Rozelle to be his bride. This makes both Rozelle and Stacia unhappy, but Otto doesn’t see and, worse, Otto doesn’t care.

Rozelle actually does show Otto her flower, after she battles her mom and dad, Peter the Prudent (Jonathan King), for it. This immediately places her in the Ottomat, a form of docks, where she must sit and await her punishment, which will of course be decided by Otto. Peter is Otto’s chief deputy, after all, so the punishment must be fitting. Otto finally decides that Rozelle will remain within her house and courtyard, without stepping foot out until February 31st. When Rozelle tries to tell Otto that there is no such thing, Otto says there is, and therefore, there is. Otto is never wrong.

Into this rather dangerous situation enters a young artist, Edward Johnson (Conner Gerney), who is flabbergasted by all this orange and finds all this Otto business is just absolutely silly, and nothing more. But that is before Otto confronts Edward, throws him into the Ottmat, and declares that he will become Edward the Example, because Otto will make an example of him to the people. Otto makes the rather chilling decree that Edward will be painted orange until he drowns in it, and that will be that.

How Edward escapes, with everyone’s help, is for you to see. In the end, Otto is exposed for what he is, a big bully, and he is finally put in his place. The entire episode takes only 65 minutes, and the whole shebang is over almost before we know it.

This play is geared to young audiences, ages 4-14. This is apparent in that, were it not for a huge effort on the part of this cast, this would be a really dull work. The text is just too simplistic to be a strong piece of theatre. So the excellent and truly heroic work that was done by everyone in this play cannot be discounted. The entire ensemble brought a mammoth amount of enthusiasm to the work, and that enthusiasm was what brought this play home to the young viewer. Laura Levine as Rozelle was a prime example. Rozelle is enthusiastically rebellious, which makes us wish she will succeed. Olivia Bouzigard played Stacia as a real airhead, and made us like her nevertheless. Once mom and dad are caught up in getting Edward free, their enthusiasm increases exponentially. And winning the grand prize for enthusiasm was Jesse Gephart as Otto. Gephart fed Otto with as much energy as he could muster, making him almost likable at times before he reverts to Otto the Official again and destroys the illusion. Looking every bit like an early Elton John, in an orange ensemble that makes one wonder where they got all that orange, Gephart brought real feeling and punch to his role, making us dislike him only enough so that we hope he will change.

Director Kathleen Rudolph has assembled a fine cast for OPQRS, ETC that really fired on all cylinders, keeping the energy and the storyline going. Played out on a fine set designed by Thomas Mauney, RLT gives OPQRS a truly fine showing, raising it from being a ho-hum to being a truly fun event for its age group. RLT can point to OPQRS, ETC as being a fine example of what a strong production can do for a play that would have fallen flat without it.

OPQRS, ETC continues through Sunday, March 30. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.