Childsplay’s “Interrupting Vanessa” highlights importance of friendship

Childsplay’s “Interrupting Vanessa” explores love, loss and friendship. Here, Vanessa (Kaleena Newman) shows Timmy Fibbins (Nathan Spector) one of her creations made from found objects. Photos courtesy of Childsplay.

In 10-year-old Vanessa’s world, imaginary friends seem real, while real friends are nowhere to be found. Dealing with the loss of her father, she likes nothing better than to stay in her room alone, where she can create inventions out of found objects.

But her mother has other ideas. She invites Timmy Fibbins over to play, and Vanessa must step out of her comfort zone. First, Vanessa wonders why of all people her mother invited Timmy. No one talks to him at school, and he has a habit of throwing up after eating peanut butter sandwiches.

Written by Colleen Neuman, “Interrupting Vanessa” comes to the Tempe Center for the Arts courtesy of Childsplay on weekends, March 25-April 2, following a tour of schools across the Valley.

“What really blew us away … is how gentle and how funny this story is,” says Dwayne Hartford, Childplay’s artistic director.

“Vanessa has a lot of different layers to her that have been fun for me to explore,” says Kaleena Newman, who stars as Vanessa. “Not only is she dealing with the loss of her father, she is struggling to connect with her mom and her peers. But she has great arc and is able to move forward with her life in a really positive way.”

Newman believes what will resonate with audiences is that “Vanessa has a lot of qualities that we all do. She is silly and inventive and stubborn.” She thinks kids will recognize parts of themselves in her and that “seeing Vanessa’s journey through loss can help us all empathize with an experience that can be hard to understand.”

In Childsplay’s “Interrupting Vanessa,” Vanessa (Kaleena Newman) grapples with losing her dad (Jeff Deglow).

Directing “Interrupting Vanessa” is Debra K. Stevens. Stevens believes that one “big idea of this play is empathy, empathy on Vanessa’s part to understand Timmy, to understand why he is that kid at school and what’s happening with him as well. And once they understand what is happening in their individual lives,” she says, “they are able to tune in and to help each other and to become friends.”

During a special $12 Storybook Preview performance on Saturday, March 25, sponsored by the Steele Foundation, each family attending will receive a free book.

“Kids will always be in situations where things happen that they don’t understand — where life throws a curveball at them,” says Hartford, adding that loss is something that all of us, including young people, have to deal with. “We have to learn resiliency and moving on. We do that through interacting with each other, and that is what this play illustrates so beautifully.”

Hartford’s verdict? “I think young people today are just going to love this story, and they are going to laugh a lot.”

“Interrupting Vanessa” is recommended for ages 7 and up.

If you go: March 25-April 2; 1 and 4 p.m. Saturdays; 1 p.m. Sundays. Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. $12-$26. $12 Storybook Preview 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14. 480-350-2822 (ext. 2) or


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