The arts have not been kind to “big box” retailer Wal-Mart. Witness scathing documentaries (“Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price”) and books such as Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” and Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed,” the latter a minimum-wage indictment that was made into a successful stage production for theater companies like the Valley’s Actors Theatre.
The last time Wally World was given halfway positive artistic spin, if memory serves, was “Where the Heart Is,” that sunny 2000 big-screen Natalie Portman vehicle, based on Billie Letts’ novel, about a young woman giving birth overnight in a rural Oklahoma Wal-Mart.
Somewhere along those lines comes Eric R. Pfeffinger’s “Lost and Foundling,” a play that’s one part “Where the Heart Is” and one part “Punky Brewster.” A modern fairy tale about an orphaned girl found and raised by the employees of a Mega Price Mart — wink, wink — who goes on a journey across the store, Pfeffinger’s play is getting its first full staging at the Tempe Performing Arts Center by the Childsplay theater for young audiences.
“Most Wal-Mart plays are very harsh. Most are savagely anti-Wal-Mart,” Pfeffinger, 36, admits. “They involve, like, the disembodied head of (founder) Sam Walton.”
But the Toledo, Ohio-based playwright, who spends his days working in the children’s section of a public library, says he wanted to take a different tack for this, his first children’s play. “I think there’s something to be said for going into a project and deciding not to preach to the choir.”
Rather, Wal-Mart — er, Mega Price Mart — is simply the common backdrop of our modern age. A fluorescentlighted wonderland where everything one could ever need to live, it seems, is just an aisle away.
The girl (played by Yolanda London), whom the employees name Pryce (her first word: “affordable”), wants to embark on a potentially treacherous journey to the lost and found department, where there may be an answer to her orphanhood. Meanwhile, her ersatz family — including a greeter named Staci (Debra Stevens) and the friendly custodian (Dwayne Hartford) — begs her not to go.
“It’s all about not wanting your kids to grow up and leave you,” Pfeffinger says. “There’s also the broader level of embracing what’s comfortable.”
It’s only by sheer coincidence, Pfeffinger maintains, that a Warner Bros. cartoon from 1944 carries the same name and roughly familiar plotline: The cartoon is about a mouse that raises a baby bird, only to discover it’s the kind of hawk that eats mice.
“I Googled it,” the playwright says, “and discovered I wasn’t the first person to have that particular pun.”
‘Lost and Foundling’
When: 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, closing Nov. 12 Where: Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 E. Sixth St. Cost: $22, $18 for students and seniors Information: (480) 350-8119 or www.childsplayaz.org