Home » Pierini plays it straight for B Street’s holiday-flavored ‘Junie B. Jones’
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Pierini plays it straight for B Street’s holiday-flavored ‘Junie B. Jones’

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photographs by Barry Wisdom

 

Got funny? When B Street Theatre producing artistic director Buck Busfield needs funny, he’s got himself a deep bench of tried-and-tested company members to call to the plate for a grand-slam guffaw.
  
 Of those accomplished actors, perhaps none have a higher LOL average than David Pierini, whose insane lack of vanity, underplayed delivery and awesome arsenal of expressions and gestures can just as easily evoke yuks from post-modern yuppies catching a B Street Mainstage or B3 show, as bring about uncontrollable bouts of milk-squirting nose giggles while playing to Fantasy Theatre’s grade-school audiences.
  
But in his current role, as Mr. Scary in the Family Series production of “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” Pierini is the show’s designated straight man, grounding a cast of zanies charged with bringing author Barbara Park’s juvenile characters to funtastic life.
  
“That can be hard for a man like me,” said Pierini, a natural comic actor who learned early on (he joined the company in 1989) that being a B Street company man occasionally meant not taking a pie in the face for the team.
  
“When you’re in a show with a Greg Alexander, a Scott Craig Jones or a Rick Kleber, you realize they’re going to be the funny guy," he said. "Every so often you have to take the role of reacting to the hilarity around you. In ‘Junie B.,’ I’ll be the guy who ‘stays at home.’”
  
“Staying at home,” a euphemism director Michael Stevenson attributes to Busfield, is just as essential in staging a successful comedy as the actor who rubs his bare belly or delivers the can’t-miss laugh line.
  
“Somebody has to be the normal guy so all the craziness can be around him,” Stevenson said. “Dave’s always looking to serve the play.”
  
While Pierini may be playing it straight, there is no shortage of attention-getting comic actors in “Junie B.”
  
“We’ve got John Lamb, one of the quirkiest, funniest people on stage,” Pierini said. “Whether in rehearsal or on break, he’s usually cracking me up. You can throw John into any show and he’ll steal it.”
  
Lamb, a B Street veteran who was recently featured in Capital Stage’s “Mauritius” (directed by Stevenson), is cast here as a young classmate of the titular character, who’s played by Stephanie Altoltz, another actor Pierini said has no trouble generating laughs from adults as well as children.
  
“It’s a fun group with me and John being the elder statesmen, if you will,” Pierini said.
  
Busfield counts Pierini, who turned 40 this year, among the B Street’s strong core of all-purpose, capable-of-anything actors, calling him “the consummate company man.”
  
“Dave is wonderful, a triple-threat who can act, write and direct – an MVP," Busfield said. "He’s a friend, too.”
  
For Stevenson, who’s known Pierini since 1997, “Junie B.” marks their third collaboration as director and actor.
  
“I’ve put him in all kinds of parts,” Stevenson said. “He has incredible versatility. He knows theater so well, has amazing comic timing, but can just as easily sit back and be the straight guy – he can play just about everything.”
  

“And he’s terrific to have around,” Stevenson added, citing the actor’s relaxed demeanor, imagination and sense of humor as qualities that make him a welcome addition to any set.
  
“If I can put him in a show, I do,” Stevenson said.
  
Stevenson said that casting Pierini in “Junie B.” was a no-brainer, given the actor’s history with Fantasy Theatre.
  
“He’s a writer himself, and he understands the kind of humor children respond to," he said. "Enormously skilled – he has a great sense of make-believe, he can play the fantastic or the ridiculous and really mean it.”

Pierini is equally enthusiastic about his director, noting his patience with “a bunch of adults playing kids, acting stupid and just laughing during the entire rehearsal.”

“He’s Mr. Positive all the time,” Pierini said of Stevenson. “He’s just really enthusiastic and positive, and it’s a really good environment.”
  
For Pierini, who guesstimates he’s worked on some 50 shows for Busfield’s various B Street incarnations (“Probably more.”), Stevenson’s offer to act in “Junie B.” was an early Christmas present.
  
“I was itching to do another Family Series show because it’s been a few years, and there are definite benefits to the Family Series performance schedule,” said Pierini, who noted that Family Series cast members get Sunday nights off.
  
“It’s nice to have evenings free in this business!” Pierini laughed. “There are friends to see, you can catch up on TV …. I’ve been looking forward to this schedule.”
  
While the show’s performance schedule is a bonus to be sure, Pierini said there are particular joys in playing to holiday audiences.
  
“Audiences for holiday shows seem to be in a better mood,” Pierini said. “There’s just more of an excitement in the air. Though, as we get closer to the actual holiday, you can feel the pressure the audience members are under, and everyone has to work a little harder. That week of Christmas, their minds are spinning. They’re thinking, ‘I have to get this or that gift,’ and you have to get their attention. Then there’s that moment in the show when they have that nice release.”
 
The kids in the audience, however, are all about living in the moment, Pierini said.

“I’ll tell you what, performing for a children’s audience can be a riot, and for me to see them get excited and lose it and start to laugh is great,” Pierini said. “It does makes me have to work harder and keep focused, but the kids are so much fun, their reactions so immediate.”

"Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!" runs through Dec. 26.
 

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