THEATER REVIEW | “The Cat in the Hat” makes merry mischief at the Children’s Theatre Company

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The Twin Cities’ own Children’s Theatre Company is now featuring the U.S. premiere of the National Theatre of Great Britain’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat through December 2, 2012. CTC’s production is the first time the story has been onstage in the U.S.

The performance, directed by Jason Ballweber, is an all-too-quickly passing 40 minutes of fun, silly, and very mischievous antics. A superbly artistic stage setting by props design adaptor Samantha Jones brings the audience right into the heart of Seussville. The sound effects by sound designer Sean Healey keeps the audience leaning forward, looking upward, and twisting all around. Costumer Deborah L. Shippee reinforces the true-to-the-book dialog with authentic costumes that turn adult actors into believable children. 

There were audience giggles from the very first light as Girl (Elise Langer) and Boy (Douglas Neithercott) explain—using true-to-story text and fantastically exaggerated facial expressions—just how very bored they are on this very rainy day. The actors’ body language is perfect in capturing the exaggerated sighs and restless sitting of school-age children. By the wiggling in the audience, clearly we could relate.

The third character and moral barometer, Fish, is executed by Gerald Drake, puppeteer. Big, bulbous, and very pink, he creates an authentic voice of authority and reason throughout the play. At first, this integration of puppet and person seemed a bit awkward. Fish’s role is physically challenging so Drake, as puppeteer, is running around the stage quite a bit. But his animation of Fish is spot-on, so quickly imaginations take over and one forgets the human attached to the puppet. Fish got quite a few laughs himself.

As the story goes, the Cat in the Hat, played exuberantly by Dean Holt, soon brings diversion to the homebound trio and all kinds of rumpus ensues. The props continue to visually offer amazing similarities to the book while the Cat portrays perfectly that fine line between being feline and fantastical yet human-like and well-meaning. (Or is he? Hmm…) The physical acrobatics are fun, the action is exaggerated, and the chaos is charming. Oh, and the CatMobile is super cool.

Particularly enjoyable are Thing 1 (Elaine Patterson) and Thing 2 (Noah Crandell). Jumping out of the Cat’s box with bright red union suits and wild blue hair (and tongues … eeek!) they wow the audience with their naughtiness. They fly kites in the house, turn furniture upside down, and exhaust Boy and Girl while infuriating Fish. Audience laugher soon turns into “oh-oh’s!” and “ah-hah’s!” once Thing 1 and Thing 2 start running around.

The performance is recommended for Pre-K and up; in the spirit of Dr. Seuss, may I say, “Just take a day and go! Yes, Go! You’ll be gloomy and sad if you miss this show.”