Theater review: 'Fun that is funny' abounds at SLAC's 'Cat in the Hat'

Published: Monday, Dec. 9 2013 5:35 p.m. MST

Scene from Salt Lake Acting Company's "The Cat in the Hat."

dav.d daniels, dav.d photography

“Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat,” Salt Lake Acting Company, through Dec. 28, $15 for children and $25 for adults, 801-363-7522 or saltlakeactingcompany.org

When the Cat in the Hat enters Sally and her brother’s home on a rainy, gloomy day, he promises the bored children “lots of fun that is funny.”

The Salt Lake Acting Company has a holiday gift, and it is wrapped with a large red bow tie at his neck and a red and white-striped stovepipe hat atop his furry head. The thoroughly delightful and wonderfully enchanting show is, as the gleeful mischief-maker guaranteed, lots of fun that is funny.

This is children’s theater at its very best. “The Cat in the Hat” not only engages its young audience members, they are spellbound. Those accompanying the target theatergoers will appreciate the youngsters’ blissful wonderment, and they will fondly recall the witty wordplay, intriguing rhyming and whimsical illustrations from the clever imagination of Theodor Seuss Geisel they, too, have enjoyed.

The strength of this production is the accurate representation of his drawings and the dialogue directly lifted from the text. Page by page, we are transported into the fantastical world of Dr. Suess’ most famous book.

There’s no excluding the spry direction of Penelope Caywood and the highly animated six actors re-creating the vivid characters Seuss imagined.

Playing the obstreperous feline at the center of this domestic maelstrom is the skilled Austin Archer, who excels as the Cat in the Hat. With nimble skills and winning confidence, Archer connects with the audience from his first entrance to the final bow. All the sleight of hand and gravity-defeating balance acts have been so well-rehearsed, they appear natural and performed with ease.

Without stealing the show from the title character, Jaten McGriff is an endearing puppeteer as the worrywart Fish. Whether leaping out of his fishbowl or flung across the room, McGriff clearly communicates through his grimaces and perplexed mannerisms.

Also wholly committed to their roles of Sally and her brother are Elena Dern and Luke Monday, who encourage the audience’s involvement with their amazement at the unexpected antics. As the impish Thing 1 and Thing 2, Connor Norton and Jenessa Bowen impress as they manically scurry across the stage.

The playful sound effects add much to the fun and participation from the audience.

Wisely eschewing an original adaptation, SLAC selected the celebrated script by playwright-director Katie Mitchell that was commissioned and first staged by the National Theatre of Great Britain.

Dr. Seuss’ intent was to entertain while combating the declining levels of readership that abounded when he first began writing. His “The Cat in the Hat” asks us how we would respond, given no repercussions, if we could slip away from our everyday conformity and bonds of boredom. The SLAC production is a wildly satisfying escape.

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