For an embodiment of anarchy, this whiskered visitor is awfully personable. After strolling into a glum household, sporting his trademark striped headgear, he beams and does a soft-shoe routine. Pretty soon, the home teems with exuberant disorder, including acrobatics, indoor kite-flying and the juggling of a fishbowl.
The chaos-peddling feline is the title character in “Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat,” the charming dramatization of the beloved picture book larking it up at Adventure Theatre MTC. Directed by Karin Abromaitis, the show features Rick Hammerly as the likably obstreperous Cat. But the real star is Dr. Seuss, whose rhyming wit — spoken by the play’s characters and by a disembodied narrator (NPR’s Guy Raz) — reverberates through the script. (Katie Mitchell adapted the play, which premiered at Britain’s National Theatre.
The primary colors and whimsical outlines of the book’s original illustrations have also found pleasingly scrupulous equivalents in this production’s visuals. Set designer Luciana Stecconi conjures up the spare but cozy living room where young Sally (Jessica Shearer) and her brother (Tyler Herman) are moping one rainy day while their mother is out. Things are so quiet that even the pet Fish is snoozing, his snores generating colored bubbles that waft above his fishbowl. (The bow-tie-wearing Alex Vernon, manning a red-finned puppet, deftly evokes the Fish’s comically uptight personality. Eric Brooks is puppet designer.)
But calm evaporates when the Cat appears. Eyes twinkling above his whiskers and beady black nose, Hammerly saunters breezily about, speaking in a jovially silky voice. At one point, he stands one-legged on a beach ball, precariously balancing a cake, a teacup, the Fish and other items on his hat and various limbs. (Andrea “Dre” Moore designed the very Seussian properties, and Kendra Rai the costumes.)
Shearer and Herman ably take their characters from torpor — slumping in their chairs at a stylized angle — to dazzled enthusiasm to frantic Cat-evicting efficiency. Equally winning are the Cat’s two sidekicks, Thing 1 and Thing 2 (young actors Alison Cenname and Cassie Cope at the reviewed performance), who romp about in red onesies and pale-blue fright wigs, turning cartwheels and otherwise channeling mayhem.
Sound designer Neil McFadden enhances the havoc with quirky, squeaky, whistling, crashing sound effects. What with all the pandemonium, by the story’s end, actor-puppeteer Vernon’s bow tie is askew and his shirt untucked.
Life can be pretty tough
For a well-behaved Fish
When the mischief’s as droll
As a theatergoer could wish.
Wren is a freelance writer.
based on the book by Dr. Seuss, adapted by Katie Mitchell. Directed by Karin Abromaitis; assistant director, Adi Stein; composer, William Yanesh; lighting designer, Jason Aufdem-Brinke. 45 minutes. Recommended for all ages. Through Sept. 2 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Call 301-634-2270 or go to www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org.