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Thursday, September 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lake City Playhouse’s ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ a true family affair

Monica Thomas, standing, in green, and Spencer Normington, standing, in blue, who play Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, are surrounded by their “Cheaper by the Dozen” family. (Courtesy photo)
Monica Thomas, standing, in green, and Spencer Normington, standing, in blue, who play Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, are surrounded by their “Cheaper by the Dozen” family. (Courtesy photo)

As one of seven children, Shea King knows a thing or two about large families.

It’s fitting then that King is directing Lake City Playhouse’s production of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which opens Friday and runs through Nov. 4.

“The play is really sweet and has some really fun and interesting looks at the family dynamic and really fun looks at how young people, and kids in particular, deal with really serious topics,” he said. “No matter what age you are, things are going to happen how they’re going to happen and it’s how we deal with it that can be very interesting.”

“Cheaper by the Dozen” tells the true story of the Gilbreth family.

Frank (Spencer Normington) and Lillian (Monica Thomas) Gilbreth were experts in efficiency and often used their home, and their 12 children, as a testing ground for ideas, things like a family council.

“There are things where on the first run of the play I was like ‘What on Earth are these parents doing? This is so interesting.’ ” King said. “Then really sitting back and assessing and objectively looking at it being like ‘They’re just funny, novel kind of people that are just trying to figure out how to live their best life with their kids. This is the way they’re doing it.’ ”

The play was adapted by Christopher Sergel from the novel of the same name, written by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and published in 1948.

The pair released a follow up, “Belles on Their Toes,” in 1950.

“Cheaper by the Dozen” was made into a movie starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy in 1950 and again in 2003, this time starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, though King notes the latter adaptation doesn’t closely follow the source material.

Lake City Playhouse’s production stays true to the novel, although King did decide to modernize it a little bit.

Sections of the book are narrated by the authors, so King decided to begin scenes with the narration, which leads to those memories coming to life via the other actors. The narrators then step into the memory, turning the memory into the play.

“We did it very simply in how we separated these worlds a little bit to help make the play exist today rather than doing some antique recreation of the early 1900s,” he said. “We’ve contemporized a lot of the behavior and a lot of the aesthetic in terms of what it looks like just to make it a little more accessible to today and to the young audience that’s going to come.”

Lake City Playhouse’s production features two sets of sibling in its cast: Travis (Joe and Larry) and Katrina (Mrs. Fitzgerald/Miss Brill) Cook and Emma (Martha) and Luke (Frank) Sharon.

King has enjoyed watching how each pair of siblings has welcomed their “Cheaper by the Dozen” siblings into the fold to create a new family dynamic.

“It’s been really nice to have them backstage and how they help each other get ready and how everyone helps each other and supports each other in a way that’s really special even if they don’t have any scenes together,” he said.

To help create an authentic family dynamic early in the rehearsal process, King invited the cast and crew to bring in some kind of representation of what family meant to them.

Many brought in something they couldn’t remember not having in their lives, like stuffed animals. Thomas, who plays the Gilbreth matriarch, brought in items from her ancestors who emigrated to America.

“We had a conversation about what family is with this big team, looking at how family means so many different things but, at the core of it, is usually love and support and camaraderie in some way,” King said.

The director’s note in the program will also feature a sentence or two from members of the cast and crew about what family means to them.

Though there are few families quite like the Gilbreth clan, King hopes audiences will recognize little bit of themselves and their own family dynamic in “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

“I’m hoping that by the end of the play, that not only we’ve had a couple laughs, we’ve had maybe a couple good cries, we’ve had a couple scratching our heads going ‘Why would they do that?’ ” he said. “Those last couple of moments, I hoping that everyone has this recognition of ‘That’s what this whole family thing is about.’ ”

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