Friday, January 17, 2020

ASF Acting Fellows: "The Cat in the Hat"

With only six public performances [as well as several Schoolfest offerings], the ASF Acting Fellows' production of The Cat in the Hat is aimed at both the young and young at heart. So, there are only two more Saturdays to go in its run.

Dr. Seuss wrote dozens of books to engage children as readers with his simple vocabulary, witty characters and stories, clever illustrations, and lessons for people of all ages. The Cat in the Hat is arguably his most popular book, and the stage version at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival [adapted by Katie Mitchell for the National Theatre in London] extends his short narrative into a charming 40-minute production under the direction of Neil David Seibel, who directed Winnie the Pooh last season at ASF.

Instantly recognizable costumes, props, and set pieces replicate the book's illustrations, and the script is enhanced by the energetic movement of the 8-member acting company and inventive sound cues that punctuate the action.

The story is a simple one: two children are at home alone on a rainy day; both Boy [George Lamar] and Sally [Sania Hyatt] are bored until the unexpected arrival of the Cat in the Hat [Vivienne Claire Luthin], two Kittens [Jeremy Sapadin and Matthew Zimmerman], and two Things [Kira Player and Andrew Greiche] who get into a lot of mischief and nearly destroy the children's house. Though the Fish [John Cencio Burgos] tries to warn them of impending disaster, the children take little heed until they finally realize that "fun that is funny" isn't always good.

The acting ensemble invest in the zany antics of their characters, taking care to communicate Dr. Seuss's engaging verses and their messages with a gentle touch for the benefit of the targeted youthful audience. -- They can laugh and relish the "fun" of the Cat's trickery and games until things get out of hand and the children's Mother is on her way home. -- The mess has got to be cleaned up, and the children in the play and in the audience understand they must be responsible for their actions.

There are a few moments in the play that directly address the children in the audience, who do not hold back on their responses. -- And by the end, when order has been restored to the house and the Cat has departed, Mother comes home and we hear her recorded voice ask Boy and Sally "Did you have any fun?" and "What did you do?", the audience is asked: "What would you do?" -- Something to think about.