The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks

The best children's theatre isn't for children, but for the entire family. And, happily for families all over New York, TheatreworksUSA is continuing their tradition of creating original, intelligent and (most important of all) well-written family theatre. Even better, their current production is free. What could be more family-friendly than that?

Like many other TheatreworksUSA shows, The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks is based on a popular children's book series—in this case, the eponymous Plant books by Nancy McArthur. Joe Iconis, winner of both the Ed Kleban Award and the Jonathan Larson Award, has adapted McArthur's story with wit to spare, making the score and book fresh, fun and vibrant. Using melodies that are at once smart, catchy and age-appropriate, Iconis has created a musical that can appeal to kids and their parents alike.

The quirky story is fairly straightforward: Brothers Norman and Michael share a room. Norman is uptight, responsible and super-neat. Michael, while intelligent, is slovenly and determined to fit in with the punks in his fourth-grade class. When the brothers receive a mysterious packet of seeds, they decide to raise their plants in decidedly different ways: Norman gives his plant plenty of water, while Michael feeds his pizza. The plants grow to a remarkable size, and (living up to the show's title) begin to devour the boys' socks. As the family struggles to keep their "pets" a secret, and the neighborhood snoops sneak their way to the truth, the boys begin to find that they have more in common than they'd thought.

For a one-hour family musical, the show is surprisingly complex, and features some disturbingly malicious behavior by one of the characters. Parents might do well to discuss the show and its themes with their kids afterwards.

As Michael and Norman, respectively, Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams and Lance Rubin seem to have boundless energy, playing off of each other's quirks to create a ying-and-yang that is delightfully funny. Lorinda Lisitza conjures old-fashioned silent comedy stars like Mabel Normand with her hilarious performance as the boys' sensible mother, and Kilty Reidy deftly steals scenes as the father. Jeffrey Omura is delightfully slimy as Michael's newest friend and worst influence, and Lauren Marcus turns the sweet-but-tough schoolgirl detective cliché on its head as the sneaky and snoopy Patty Jenkins. Michael Schupbach's puppetry (courtesy of Eric Wright's designs) makes the two enormous plants into characters in their own right, and is quite impressive to watch.

John Simpkins' direction is lighthearted enough, and keeps the energy of the show flowing at an even pace. Michael Schweikardt's set, primarily the shared bedroom of the boys, nicely reflects their differing personalities and personal growth.

By hiring young composers, lyricists and bookwriters like Joe Iconis making musicals for them, TheatreworksUSA is not only creating theatre that the whole family can enjoy, but supporting the careers of the best artists on the rise. The company is, in fact, securing the future of American theatre both in front of the curtain and behind it.

Photo Credit Joan Marcus

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