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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 7.28.11

 

The Cat’s Meow

Mad Duckling Theatre presents The Commedia Puss in Boots

By Anna Grace

A poor miller’s son is left nothing but a rather high-maintenance cat with whom to make his way in the world… but what a cat! Once the miller’s son procures a pair of boots for the feline, the pair takes off on an adventure of fair princesses and awful ogres. The clever imagination, quick tongue and swashbuckling skills of the cat lead them in and out of scrapes, and ultimately to wealth and fame. My favorite fairy tale by far, Puss in Boots played out Commedia style is simply marvelous.  

To recap Mad Duckling’s theme this summer, commedia dell'arte is an Italian Renaissance-era comedy style from which modern slapstick derived.  It is very broad, physical and funny. For a quick, kid-centered tutorial, check out the Mad Duckling website at  http://pages.uoregon.edu/madduckling/

The original story of a trickster cat in fabulous footwear dates from the same era, and makes an excellent platform for showcasing commedia dell'arte. With commedia, you are watching players put on a play, and thus forgotten lines, lost props and annoyed actors are all part of the experience. A summer of working together has created an easy, improvisational spirit among the Mad Duckling actors.  

If it’s true that dying is easy and comedy is hard, then comedy for children has to be the most challenging of theatrical undertakings. Director Brian Cook has a crowd-pleasing cast to work with. My daughter was struck dumb by the wonder that is Maddy Weatherhead as Columbine/ the Cat. My son kept laughing at the antics of Tim Vergano as Scaramouche. Personally, I was cracking up at Brittany Dorris’ bumbling Pantalone. Jesselyn Parks, Philip Morton and Katelyn Elias all pitched in mightily to the silliness as well. 

Gina Love’s inspired costumes kicked the whole production up a level. Scraps and patches are sewn into dazzling theatrical outfits. Of particular note is Columbine/ the Cat, resplendent in gold and orange plumed hat, boots and magnificent tail. But the costume worth showing up for is the ogre. According to this story, the ogre had been created out of a pile of dirty laundry — a “fearsome, large and angry pile of dirty laundry.” Any parents accompanying their children to the play will shrink in fear of this costume.

The best part of The Commedia Puss in Boots is how the actors ignite the imagination of their audience. When the cat creates an imaginary tiger to scare off a few guards, the tiger remains on stage. Audience members willingly hold onto its leash and have a hard time relinquishing the invisible tiger to a well-meaning baker. Combine that with big laughs, sword fighting and charming actors, and you have the best family fun of the summer.

Puss in Boots plays from 11 am July 26-30 and Aug. 2-6 in Amazon Park; tickets are $5 for ages 3 and above, and discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.