By Carol Carter
It’s difficult to pick a favorite scene from “Dr. Seuss’s The Cat and the Hat” playing at the Center for Puppetry Arts through July 28, but if forced to vote, I would select the one about that crazy cat’s balancing act.
But first – just in case you’ve never read the classic children’s book – here’s the plot. Mother leaves her two young children at home while she goes out. It’s raining. They are bored, bored, bored (“We sat in the house; we did nothing at all.”) Then The Cat in the Hat comes in and proceeds to entertain them. Fish objects to the cat’s being there and to his games, which include the cat standing on a ball while holding Fish up in the air.
As if the cat’s games aren’t bad enough, he brings a box into the house and opens it to release Thing 1 and Thing 2, little creatures who wreak complete havoc throughout the house.
Alas, Mother approaches. Cat in the Hat puts Thing 1 and Thing 2 back in the box and cleans up the mess before Mother arrives.
Now, back to the scene where Cat in the Hat holds Fish high up in the air. Dressed in his red-and-white striped hat and red bow tie, Cat stands atop the ball – the one with the star – and holds the unwilling Fish “Up Up Up” while balancing, let’s see:
- Three books
- Milk and a dish
- Toy Boat
And, of course, ultimately Cat in the Hat crashes to the floor, and Fish, who told them so, (“Tell that Cat in the Hat you do not want to play.”) lands in a pot.
But that crash is the least of the worries of the two children. Thing 1 and Thing 2 quickly become their biggest problem.
When it seems that Thing 1 and Thing 2 have demolished everything in the house and Mother is nearly home, Cat in the Hat and his Big Enormous Cleaning Machine save the day, putting the house back in good order seconds before Mother walks through the door.
Probably you’ve read the book (1,000 times). Maybe you’ve seen the movie (500 times), but if you ain’t seen “The Cat in the Hat” performed by puppeteers, well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Dressed in powder blue cat costumes, the agile, talented, creative puppeteers – (Dolph Amick as Cat in the Hat; Aaron Gotlieb as Fish; Reay Kaplan as Sally/Thing 1/Mother); Rudy Roushdi as Thing 2; Amy Sweeney as Boy and Head Puppeteer; and Tim Sweeney, Ensemble) – somehow manage to be invisible and amazing all at the same time.
You see them there on the stage, but, really, you don’t notice them as they work their magic, causing Cat in the Hat to dance or balance on the ball, assisting Thing 1 and Thing 2 as they scream, run and sometimes fly through the house, knocking down every in their path along the way.
Once this completely charming production is done, you begin to stop and wonder how the heck the puppeteers do it. Not only do they manipulate the puppets, they also voice them. At the very least, it seems they would run into each other or forget to move a leg while a colleague moves an arm, but they don’t.
Here’s a tip of a tall red and white hat to both scenic designer Ryan Sbaratta and sound designer Gregory Montague. The puppets and the props all look very much the way they look in the book thanks to Sbaratta, and the sound effects are every bit as creative and instrumental to the story as is the narrative. Not only that, the sound effects often make you laugh.
On opening day, the performers played to an enthusiastic and attentive audience of young people who laughed at the on-stage antics, groaned at the mess Thing I and Thing 2 created and applauded when Cat cleaned everything up just in the nick of time.
At a few minutes short of an hour, “The Cat in the Hat” is a perfect length for youthful attention spans and is, by the way, recommended for theater-goers age 4 and up.
When you purchase your ticket, ask about the Create-A-Puppet Workshop, available after some performances.
Carol Carter, a veteran journalist, is the author of “JUNIOR DRAGSTER DREAMS: How Sam Found His Own Ride,” a children’s novel.