by MICHAEL J. OPPERMAN
The Children’s Theatre productions are so masterful, so pleasurable, so dynamic and so consistently great that it can be easy to take the constant excellence for granted. Adapted for the stage by Katie Mitchell for Britain’s Royal National Theatre, The Cat in the Hat premieres in the United States here. There is a both a faithfulness to the book, and a particular whimsy that belongs entirely to the staging.
The play opens with Dick (Douglas Neithercott) and Sally (Elise Langer) staring mournfully out of a window. The house is a two dimensional wonder echoing the book, while also ratcheting up the color saturation to achieve a certain luminosity. The whole set is like this. The objects brought to magical life evoke not the book, but the imaginary we constructed as children. The rain hangs in the air, the drops large and ponderous. The contrast of primary colors against white is intense. The sounds of opening doors and creaking chairs are crisp.
Dean Holt, as the Cat, retains that hint of menace that could have easily been scrubbed away. The cat should not be there, he cannot be trusted, he is a problem. Director Jason Ballweber, admirably, does not opt to make the Cat merely a figure of fun. My toddler daughter, though mesmerized by the movement of the creature, told me without hesitation: “I do not like him.” In this matter, she is in agreement with Fish (played by the wonderful Gerald Drake). Thing One and Thing Two (Elaine Patterson and Noah Crandall) move with barely contained abandon, leveling up the chaos. The choreography is seamless.
The production is frenetic and engaging for adults, and absolutely riveting for kids. There were gasps, laughs and awestruck silences. What else can we ask for?
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. Presented by the Children’s Theatre, September 25-December 2. Information at www.childrenstheatre.org.