The Cat In The Hat (on the Children’s Theatre Co.‘s Cargill Stage, through December 2) is a remount, helmed by the estimable Jason Ballweber, of a production that originated in the U.K., at the National Theatre. CTC utilizes the National’s concept: design, directorial approach (Katie Mitchell was the original creator). Ballweber displays a stateliness and an intelligence that the frenetic and poorly paced National production lacked. (I’m comparing the CTC show to the National’s Netflix stream. No doubt this is slanderously unfair. Sue me.) CTC’s show builds more slowly, more enjoyably, and although it is quite short (barely 45 minutes) it makes for a satisfying evening for the youngest audiences.
This The Cat In The Hat also follows Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)’s classic 1957 book closely. You know the story: rainy day, (unnamed) Boy and his kid sister Sally sigh with boredom. They open the door for the Cat and he tears the house apart. Just as Mom returns home the Cat (magically) cleans up his mess.
That the text and the plot of Cat come more or less directly from Seuss creates definite pluses and minuses. On the plus side: this is Dr. Seuss! Has there ever been a wittier writer for children? On the minus side would be the extreme familiarity of the material. Any parent who doesn’t have this text memorized isn’t reading to his kid enough.
Also on the minus side is the grating nastiness of the Cat himself, that wanton merchant of domestic mayhem who ignores the agonized entreaties of the Boy and the Girl and methodically destroys the house: “It is fun to have fun!” he exclaims. This is fun? If I were encountering the material for the first time I likely wouldn’t feel this way, but after reading the story to my boy over and over, my bitterness has grown. Dean Holt, CTC’s athletic animal-player in residence (e.g., Babe, The Sheep Pig) does wonderful work, but he doesn’t, in my not-so-humble opinion, overcome the Cat’s disagreeableness.
The other actors, though, are fabulous and they turn The Cat In The Hat into a treat: the great Gerald Drake plays Fish with fervent outrage. Thing One and Thing Two, those befright-wigged whirligigs of destruction, are played with cheerfully charming abandon by Elaine Patterson and Noah Crandall.
The best work in The Cat In The Hat is by Douglas Neithercott and Elise Langer as the Boy and Sally. They stagger from scene to scene with delightful expressions of put-upon horror. Langer is especially compelling with her flip of (almost) white hair, her baggy bloomers and her wonderful plastic face. I found these two charming, smart, compulsively watchable – and screamingly funny. Bravo.
As a reviewer I can harrumph and belch cynically as much as I choose, but with CTC the question is always: did the kids like it? The answer: yes, they did. They laughed and fell all over themselves. They will certainly have a good time at The Cat In The Hat. Parents will have to make their separate peace with the overly familiar material – and with the high ticket prices. As always, my advice is: let Grandma and Grandpa take the kids to CTC while you crack open that long-hoarded bottle of vino.
For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.