I remember my brother and I playing Rock’em Sock’em Robots. No, not the game where plastic figures boxed each other; we were the robots, always trying to kill each other. Memories of Rock’em Sock’em Robots, The American Flag on the nineteen inch television screen at sign-off, and Halloween costumes with plastic masks having edges sharp enough to slice your face; memories that all come back in The Wonderbread Years.
Former Seinfeld writer Pat Hazell shares with us his childhood memories in this two-hour production. However, it’s John McGivern who transforms Hazell’s memories and makes them his own. McGivern shares with us his favorite show and tell items, he reminds us of his friends with whom he went trick-or-treating, and he gives us a glimpse of his family with slides of his brothers, sisters, and even Aunt LuAnn.
Before the show begins, we are treated a brief film to start the reminiscing. The NBC Peacock in Living Color, Speedy the Alka-Seltzer mascot, and Slinky, the wonderful toy are just some of the images that run across the screen giving the audience a preview of what is to come.
From the moment that he first appears on stage wearing a gas station attendant’s jacket, we all immediately think of the Texaco red star and a time when gas station attendants were there to check your oil and pump gas into your Oldsmobile Delta 88.
McGivern gives us a chance to laugh and plenty of chances there are. More importantly he gives us a chance to remember; a chance to remember those years of wonder, discovery, and innocence. These were The Wonderbread Years. Several times throughout the show the audience could be seen nodding their heads in agreement along with the collective sighs of “I remember that”.
As an audience we collectively relieve our sugar-coated youths. That white goddess with whom we grew up. Sugar in our candy, sugar over our corn flakes, and yes, even sugar on our bread.
McGivern's interplay with the audience was a perfect way to let us briefly share our memories. The search for a plastic egg shaped coin purse and a plastic rain bonnet brought arms waiving in the air, each person eager to show off these items. I must admit that I still have a clear plastic rain bonnet with blue and red polka dots that my Grandmother gave me to wear on rainy days. It's still neatly folded, never worn.
For those who maybe averse to seeing a play take note that The Wonderbread Years is much more. It’s a trip down memory lane for us baby boomers. Parents and their teenage children shared the laughs together. Teenagers laughing at their parents’ childhood. They wonder how we ever survived without computers, ipods, and cable television.
One man taking all of us on a journey into the past, that’s time well spent. For those of us whose childhood memories surrounded a white plastic bag with red, yellow, and blue polka dots, The Wonderbread Years is a little slice of heaven.
If you go: The Wonderbread Years is running through September 21st in Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets may be purchased through the Marcus Center Box Office (414-273-7206) or through Ticketmaster.