Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bad Kitty—Winningstad Theatre---downtown Portland

Katty Remarks

This production by the Oregon Children’s Theatre is written by Min Kahng, adapted from a book by Nick Bruel and directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director).  It is playing at the Winningstad, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

Pets are an important part of most peoples’ lives.  My own personal preference is dogs, as I have had about a half dozen over half my lifetime.  They often become “friends” and are integrated into the substance of our existence.  What is the fascination between the relationship of pets and humans?  Unconditional love from them, for one, and a creature that is dependent on us, and that makes us feel that we have a purpose, a reason for being, for another.  An unbeatable combination, I would say.

But this is a tale about the feline breed, cats, or a Kitty, to be more specific (and a puppy, mouse, bunny, baby, super heroes and those pesky, hairless animals called humans).  Once upon a time there was a Kitty (Katie Michels) who was all alone in her universe except for her occasional caretaker Human (James Sharinghousen).  She was quite content to live out her nine lives scratching, sleeping and eating all by her lone.  But Fate had a different scenario in mind for her.

One day, into her life, appeared a drooling, noisy, obnoxious thing called, Puppy (Lucas Welsh).  And from then on, things proceeded to go downhill.  It seemed that she had a birthday coming up and the whole house was invaded with “friends,” including a Chatty Cat (Allie Menzimer), who would just not shut up, and lots of useless presents.  And, when a Baby (Jill Westerby) appeared one day, that was the last straw.  She really blew her cool and, because of her bad behavior, was sent to an obedience school.

But in the school she met a curious dog, Petunia (Alan H. King), who hated cats and some cool “super hero” wannabes, Fantasticat (Alex Lankford), Power Mouse (Westerby, again) and a super villain, Dr. Lagomorph (Sharinghousen, again).  But here, I have to stop, for it is up to you to see how it all turns out.  Will the evil bunny take over the world?  Is Baby here to stay?  Will Kitty and Puppy ever make peace?  Will Kitty ever hear the words, “good kitty” from her owner?  Stay tuned….

This is play-time for the mind, which is important for children but also for adults, too.  Of course, through it all, there are gentle messages to be gleaned such as, don’t put tags on people.  Just because they don’t fall in step with our personal world doesn’t mean they don’t have value.  They are just listening to a different drummer.  When we rid ourselves of political, gender, cultural, et. al. labels, we may find we are really looking into a mirror and should explore the common ground we all share…and maybe, we too, will hear the phrase from others of…“good human.”

This play, on the surface, could have just been an ordinary, fun little romp, but in Baldwin’s hands, nothing is “ordinary” when it comes to children’s theatre.  She has chosen her cast carefully and they are fully engaged and electric when performing the show.  She knows how to get the most out of lines, reactions and subtle nuisances.  She keeps the show alive and flowing and, most of all, fun, as the Youth in the audience (and some adults, too) were fully enthralled with the proceedings.  Dani is a treasure as a teacher, director and performer herself and her Young Professionals program is amazing.  May she live long and prosper!

Sharinghousen is always a treat onstage.  I especially liked his villainous bunny, every twitch and quirk got a laugh.  Westerby, too, is a pro of the stage and, again, well worth watching in any show she does.  In this one, her Baby incarnation was priceless, getting just the right expressions and movements to convince us she was that infant.  King’s Petunia was as a goofy but slightly dangerous classmate.  Welsh was the typical puppy, all licks and drools and cuddly.  Menzimer was all too familiar as the one who was constantly running at the mouth with trivial banalities.  And Lankford was typically heroic as the mysterious, handsome, cape crusader vying to save the world.

And one should not forget the deep-voiced narrator (Joe Bolenbaugh), who kept the action moving along and the pianist (Stephen Thompson) who added some appropriate background music.  But the gem of the night was Michels as Kitty.  I’ve never seen this before onstage but she did not have one word of spoken English onstage but, by her expressions, inflexions and gestures, you always knew what she was saying and what she meant.  (I’m sure they had a special cat-translator on hand to make sure every feline word and gesture was accurate).  That alone is worthy of notice, but her appearance as Kitty was, to say the least, homely and I noticed in the program that she is actually a very attractive young lady.  Again, another very specific transformation and it all works, thanks to this talented actor.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.