Rainy days can be a bust, especially if all of your plans were based on having fun outdoors. For the two youngsters in Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, the rainy day only promises boredom, as all of their activities would be too raucous for indoor play. Without Xbox games and computers to distract them, the pair is left to stare out of the window at the rain, until a particularly rambunctious cat arrives at their door.
In the Children's Theatre Company's charming production of The Cat in the Hat, the basics of Dr. Seuss's story get stretched just enough to fill a short evening (or afternoon, rainy or not) with delightful, anarchic fun showcasing several talented area performers. The adaptation was first crafted by the National Theatre of Great Britain, and then brought to the CTC stage in 2012. That team returns here, as director Jason Ballweber leads a cast topped off by Dean Holt as the tall-hat wearing feline.
The key to this successful rendering is that the source story's DNA is completely intact. The dialogue is all from the book, while the set design perfectly translates the original illustrations to the stage. The gloomy aesthetic is clear in the opening, Cat-less minutes, as the two children (Elsie Langer and Douglas Neithercott) have given up amusing themselves. All they can do is rescue favorite things — a ball, a tennis racket, a bicycle — from the rain. We learn just how waterlogged they are via some clever sound effects, expertly designed by Sean Healey.
The stillness finally breaks once the Cat makes his appearance. The sleepy early minutes are quickly replaced by Tex Avery/Marx Brothers-style insanity, as the Cat and his "Things" wreak havoc on the once neat and clean house. Holt puts his clowning skills on full display here, assisted by Thing 1 (Ana Christine Evans) and Thing 2 (Transatlantic Love Affair's Diogo Lopes), who do their best to ruin Samantha Johns's set pieces. The madness builds and builds, with indoor kite flying giving way to general anarchy — until the Cat and the children finally get the pair of Things under control (with a giant net, naturally).
The Cat and his Things leave the house in ruins, just as the nervous Fish (Gerald Drake) warned all along. As the voice of reason, Fish has had a tough time, spending a good chunk of the play in a teapot. Drake does a fine job of inhabiting the pink fish, from the puppet on his hand to his movements and gestures in his pink-accented suit.
Unlike a real cat — which will usually leave behind a mess with an "I didn't do that" look on its face — the Cat in the Hat does come back to set things right at the end. That's really part of the charm of this story. The message isn't so much, "Don't make a mess of the house when Mom is away" as, "If you can clean it up in time, Mom won't know about the mess you made." That attitude is embraced throughout the piece, which provides plenty of joy for young and older audiences alike. It's a perfectly delightful theatrical distraction — just make sure there are no unexpected visitors while you are away.
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