BWW Reviews: PUSS IN BOOTS is Frisky Fun
Puss in Boots is currently playing at the Columbia Children's Theatre and is sure to delight the small fry, with plenty to amuse older children and their parents as well. It certainly held the attention of a rapt young audience at a recent matinee, a difficult task that speaks for itself. A delightful and imaginative retelling of the Perrault classic, this is not "your father's Puss in Boots". Set in the Old South with plenty of references to Puss' trickster patrimony, this production preserves the classic fairy tale overlaid with generous parody of regional identity. Not to mention the sheer comic value of outsized, spectacular red boots that no similarly outsized character can do without.
Written and directed by Jerry Stevenson, Puss in Boots' core story follows the original: a youngest son cheated out of his inheritance by greedy but ultimately clueless brothers, and rescued by an anthropomorphic cat whose mastery of manipulation and trickery yields a string of adventures and eventual restitution and romance. Instead of the landscape of 17th century France, this Puss lives in a world of plantations, easily bamboozled governors, long-winded preachers, Southern belles, card sharps, slow-witted and slow-moving servants, and a voodoo practitioner. This gumbo yields considerable mayhem and slapstick on the way to living happily ever after. While young children will appreciate the plot in a straightforward and earnest way, they also enjoy the pratfalls and sight gags (including a memorable bit of derring-do that even incorporates a rubber chicken); the approximate one hour run time is well-suited to their story time tolerance as well. Parents will chuckle at the egregious puns and one-liners targeting everything from Facebook to sojourns along the Appalachian Trail, plus the inevitable result of a name made up of silent letters.
The set and costumes are simple, which is fine since this is not a show carried by technical elements. Puss in Boots is dependent on character, writ large, and this is found a-plenty. The cast generally doubles roles, which they appear to relish. The ensemble works well together, and each actor has some opportunity to shine. Paul Lindley II's Tom is a convincing naïf appropriately abashed in his scenes with a rhododendron bush and a shower cap, and Elizabeth Stepp enjoys having us watch her characters' wheels turn ever so very slowly. Lee O. Smith milks Denzel Devereaux for every bit of villainy gone wrong and is a perfect foil for Puss, who makes every bit of villainy go right. The play is indeed dependent on a redoubtable Puss, and here the insouciant Darion McCloud is indeed well-cast: he struts, he cajoles, he machinates, a master manipulator who just happens to be a cat (though, as is common in cats, he doesn't need to concretely remind us of this once he has established his very confident identity). Puss lives by his wits and manages to be an authority while being anti-authority, again telegraphed by his astonishing boots.
The actual performance space is very conducive to children's attendance and participation: they can sit in the chairs as typical audience members or, as many of the younger ones do, sit mesmerized in front of the stage on a giant puzzle mat. There are some opportunities for audience participation, and this is also cleverly woven into the plot. Puss in Boots may be a fun way to introduce children to the wonders and delights of live theatre; undoubtedly they will be reenacting scenes at home, replete with tall boots and swashbuckling hats, with perhaps a hint of feline ingenuity.
Photo Credit: Cheyenne Aldamuy Jr.