Theater review: Bovine revolutionaries star in 'Cows That Type'

Published: Thursday, Dec. 27 2012 1:11 p.m. MST

Cast members Shelby Andersen (Cow 2), Kalyn West (Hen), Camille Van Wagoner (Cow 1), Austin Archer (Duck) and Randall Eames (Farmer Brown) perform in Salt Lake Acting Company's stage adaptation of "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type."

David Daniels/Dav.d Photography

“CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE,” Salt Lake Acting Company, through Jan. 5, 2013, children $15 and adults $25 with group rates available, 801-363-7522 or saltlakeactingcompany.org

SALT LAKE CITY — To quote Farmer Brown, “Cowie wowie!”

The always-inventive Salt Lake Acting Company stages the popular picture book, “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type,” in its fourth children’s play for the annual holiday-season series, and it’s a delight for kids in single-digit ages. But by turning off the adult, I’m-too-sophisticated-for-this filter, tot-toting parents might find themselves just as engaged as their children.

University of Utah Youth Theatre artistic director Penelope Caywood is the show’s director/choreographer, and she understands the attention spans of children and keeps the pacing brisk. The cast works hard for the approval of the fidgety crowd, and the five actors are fully committed to their roles.

Adapted from author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin’s children’s book by playwright James E. Grote and composer George Howe, the show involves plucky barnyard denizens uniting to improve their working conditions. Author Cronin (who is, appropriately enough, an attorney) initiated the labor vs. management union struggle — sort of a “Norma Rae” lite — and the stage script skillfully brings the pages to life.

If you haven’t noticed the gold seal on the book’s cover, Cronin’s debut book was honored by the prestigious Caldecott Honor Committee and has been included in top 100 lists for children’s books.

To summarize the witty “Click, Clack, Moo” story, Cow 1 (Camille Van Wagoner), Cow 2 (Shelby Andersen), Hen (Kalyn West) and Duck (Austin Archer) want better workplace accommodations. The cows and the hen begin airing their grievances. Farmer Brown (Randall Eames) is dumbfounded when his cows discover an old typewriter and begin experimenting (“All day long he hears click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Clickety clack moo”) and then communicating their demands.

“Dear Farmer Brown,” the first note reads, “The barn is very cold at night. We’d like some electric blankets. Sincerely, The Cows.” When Farmer Brown denies the request, the bovine organizers go on strike.

Oh, and Duck is bored with the lily pad and wants a diving board added to his pond. Duck also serves as narrator and with the help of a “super hi-def, 3-D universal remote” to translate the animals’ conversations, the audience can listen in on their moos, clucks and quacks as they begin negotiations.

Humorous pronouncements such as “We’ve had enough of Farmer Brown treating us like cattle” — and the reply from the bewildered second cow of “But isn’t that what we are?” — are lines all audience members will enjoy when delivered by the adroit cast.

Eventually, the bovine organizers go on strike and hilarity ensues. Through the clever critters, children will learn in parable about the value of follow-through and cooperation when they herd together to solve a problem — by taking the bull by the horns.

Some of the wry references inserted only for adult appreciation include Farmer Brown’s discarded books stored in the barn that include Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” While the script handily explains that a typewriter is the precursor to the computer, elder theatergoers may need to explain how keyboarding a Smith-Corona can print docs without an accompanying printer cabled to the clickety-clackety manual device.

A significant part of the hour-long play is the bright costume design by K.L. Alberts, whose handiwork uses standard features of everyday clothing to approximate animal parts, like the bright orange bill on Duck’s cap and white overalls with black-painted spots in a cow motif. Keven Myhre’s set, with a rotating red-shingled barn to show the exterior and interior, is just as cheery.

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