In the beginning there was Kitty. There wasn’t a big bang in the dark of the universe that spun millions of planets and stars into a fury. There wasn’t a long white-bearded man high in the sky who set out to work and made a masterpiece to call his own. There wasn’t a troupe of hungry, jealous, funny, but all-powerful spirits that accidentally made the planet and named it a playground for their confusion. In the beginning there was Kitty. How is that a fact? Would you disagree with a cat? In the beginning there was Kitty.
Bay Area Children’s Theatre has paired up with Oregon Children’s Theatre to present all the reasons we love cats and Bad Kitty: On Stage.
In this world premiere (adapted by Min Kahng from Nick Bruel’s popular kids’ book series), Bad Kitty is a sleek tuxedo cat with a high Maine Coon tail who lives in a comfortable home that Charles Schulz or Jim Davis might have designed. As with all cats, since we haven’t bothered to learn meow or maybe we aren’t species enough, she gets her point across with some clawing, purring, demanding and vocalise.
Because we’ve all had those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, it goes without saying that Bad Kitty isn’t really bad. How many of us have run and hid in the bedroom closet, so we don’t have to take a bath? Did you ever wish for the most amazing spectacular toy that your best friend has, only to get an ugly orange and green wool argyle sweater set for your birthday, instead? Do you remember the first day of school, when you were nervous about all the kids in class and if they’d like you and did you wonder if your teacher might be a witch who incants her spells by making you practice math? Just like you and me, Bad Kitty’s life is full of change and growing up. Also like ours, Bad Kitty’s adventures are frustrating, scary, but also full of laughs, love and a few good pets along the way.
Rolling with the punches of growing up, OCT has made a sweet interactive production of the popular children’s books. The play, in the cozily crowded Winningstad Theatre of Portland’5 Center for the Arts, is a mashup of the series, and weaves in and out a motley crew of friends, from superhero Fantasticat and his sidekick Power Mouse, to Stinky Kitty, Chatty Kitty, and Dr. Lagomorph. The books and the play have the wild wondering imagination of childhood, which is poignantly put across throughout the production: Dr. Lagomorph is a bunny who has a villainous plan to control the world by changing all the money into Gorgonzola cheese, by way of his all-powerful crystal wand (which is actually a piece of chalk). Bad Kitty’s teacher is Diabla Von Gloom, but no worries, it’s just a family name.
A bouncy cast under Dani Baldwin’s direction makes short concentrated vignettes of some of the stock characters we encounter as kids. They take the high and low of comedy, just like a great cartoon, with laughs for both adults and children – for example, Bad Kitty’s fear of the first day of school and that “the teacher will sap your brain with her imbecilic songs” (cue The Wheels on the Bus or any similar tune). Katie Michels is a purrfect measure of a feline for young audiences, playing not just on the physical grace of the esteemed pet, but also with some junior physical comedy that will leave your tummy with some butterflies. Bad Kitty’s human, played by James Sharinghousen, is reminiscent of a member of the local barbershop quartet: he’s the beneficent straight man who takes all the silly pokes in good stride. Bad Kitty’s unwanted, unneeded, and unnecessary housemate is Puppy (Lucas Welsh), who looks like one of Dorothy Gale’s uncles, if she were of the canine persuasion. He pants, drools, and is easily distracted by any moving anything, like the real animal.
The theater reaches out to the younger set with some trivia questions, much like the first seasons of Sesame Street, gently suggesting to first-time theatergoers that you might learn something from seeing a play. It also fosters some back-and-forth with kids and their parents. The Q&A sessions are with Uncle Murray, as performed by Alan H. King, who is the human’s relation. Some of the funnier lines in the show are here, such as: “Cats hate showers and rarely sing old show-tunes in the shower.”
Bad Kitty isn’t set to be part of the classic children’s-lit canon, but with so many devices, shows, phenomenon vying for kid’s attention, it takes the hi and the low of pop culture and says, if you got something out of it, it’s important.
Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Bad Kitty continues through March 27 in the Winningstad Theatre, with many daytime school shows and a regular schedule of public shows. Performances have been added at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 12, and Saturday, March 26. Ticket and schedule information here.