“In the beginning, there was kitty. Kitty—all by herself. And life was good.” She didn’t have to share, she had the couch to herself, and she did whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. And though she won’t admit it, her life is much fuller and more entertaining with a colorful cast of characters around her. After all, if it weren’t for them, she wouldn’t be “Bad Kitty.” And that’s what makes this play so good.
Disclosure: I have only flipped through one or two Bad Kitty books. And I’m going to stick my neck out and admit that they aren’t my cup of tea (blasphemy!). I meant to do more “research” with my five-year-old (who also hasn’t read the books but just loves saying, “Bad kitty!”), but I’m glad I didn’t. This world premiere of Bad Kitty: On Stage, co-commissioned by Oregon Children’s Theatre and Bay Area Children’s Theater, shines on its own. We ran into a reliable source (read: huge Bad Kitty fan) at the theater who told me that the play strings together stories from several of the books in the popular series, but, as with most of these productions, reading them isn’t a prerequisite to watching the action on stage.
Like most cats, Kitty just wants to be left alone and live life on her terms. She doesn’t like baths, she doesn’t like sharing the couch (or her home, for that matter) with the always happy and drooling Puppy, and she doesn’t like change. But why? The narrator explores these questions in Uncle Murray’s Fun Facts, one of the play’s highlights. These asides feature good-sport Uncle Murray being put on the spot to explain cat psyche. It turns out that no one—not even the narrator—truly understands Kitty or cats, so we go into Kitty’s head to see exactly what she’s thinking. Seeing her perception of kind, would-never-hurt-a-fly Uncle Murray as a scary, I’ll-saute-you-for-dinner intruder makes you realize that maybe Kitty isn’t bad; maybe she’s just misunderstood.
But it’s hard to tell people what you’re thinking when all you can do is meow, which is how this kitty communicates, in addition to acting just like a cat (batting at toys, fluffing her pillow, kicking Puppy off the couch). We have the benefit of other characters—animals and humans—who do speak and the narrator filling us in, but Kitty and happy-go-lucky Puppy add charm by not speaking. It’s fun to watch them and to hear Kitty answer her human in meows with inflections that sound like, “Why not?” and, “Well, what I was thinking is…” She’s purr-fect (sorry, but you saw it coming) with her cat sounds and movements, but Puppy steals the show with his energetic barks, bounding gait, and constant panting.
In addition to the narrator (who has some pretty funny lines), the show is enhanced by live piano music throughout. The living-room set seems simple at first, but transformations, from a game show set to a complete change to obedience school, make it versatile and clever. In the same way, the handful of cast members take on various roles (with the exception of Kitty, who’s Kitty all the time) with great energy and effortless transitions.
My five-year-old and I were thoroughly entertained. Some of the antics (like the game show and the superheroes side story) seemed to go over her head, and she didn’t understand the quick jumps into Kitty’s mind (which may be a little jarring for younger viewers, especially with the dark, foreboding lighting and seeing a sinister side of Uncle Murray), but the show struck that sweet balance of charming both kids and adults.
Bad Kitty: On Stage runs every weekend through March at the Winningstad Theatre downtown. Tickets are going fast and shows are selling out, both because it’s a terrific play and because it’s a small venue. If you’re driving, get there with enough time to park and walk. (Remember that street parking is free Sunday mornings if you’re going to an 11 am show.)
Stick around to meet the cast and get their autographs afterwards, and before each show, Art ala Carte hosts a crafts table where young viewers can make cat masks and ears so they can be (good) kitties while they watch Bad Kitty and her friends come to life.
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