The Brooke Hills Playhouse production of Chris Grabenstein's comedy for young actors, "Curiosity Cat," presented some interesting challenges for everyone involved in the play, both on stage and behind the scenes, according to the show's director, Julia Barnhart of Wellsburg. The play has its final weekend this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Reservations are available by calling the Playhouse at (304) 737-3344.
"Curiosity Cat" is based on Grabenstein's award-winning novel for middle school readers, "The Hanging Hill," and had its origins as a play within the book, which Grabenstein developed into a full-length comedy. The title character is an adventurous animal who is homeless, but uses his new status to help other cats, while avoiding an evil cat-catcher.
Barnhart said the first challenge came from matching the demands of the script with the limited space on the Playhouse stage. "I wanted the sets to be as minimal as possible, because of the number of scene changes and the number of actors on stage at any one time," she explained. "This show also calls for a lot of physical humor, which requires very sturdy scenery," she added.
Sydney Baynham and Brynna Jackson rehearse for the Brooke Hills Playhouse production of Chris Grabenstein’s comedy, “Curiosity Cat.”
Barnhart also found challenges in showing the young actors to behave believably like dogs, cats and assorted other animals. "We had to teach them how to portray animals of different types and ages, and make the behavior look real," she said.
That behavior included some major physical tests, which Barnhart said included "... knocking things out of a cupboard, slamming up against a window and sliding down, and just a lot of old-fashioned physical gags that we had to figure out."
A lot of work from a lot of people was needed to make the animal portrayals look visually credible. Barnhart noted that "All the costumes were supplied by the parents, with some items purchased and some hand-crafted by family members." She added, "When you add the character makeup, the various little animal characters look phenomenal."
That character makeup came from a very experienced team, according to Barnhart. " For the last few years, we've been fortunate to have Madelon Jackson. bring her own team from the former Brooke Hills Spookhouse, which Madelon ran for over 20 years," Barnhart explained.
Overall, "Curiosity Cat" has had a lot of logistical support from the young actors' parents that goes beyond transporting their children to and from rehearsals. " I have one parent who drew all the pictures for the scenery, and a lot of parents help by keeping the kids in order and in the right place at the right time, Barnhart noted.
Barnhart had the additional challenge of working on "Curiosity Cat" at the same time she was directing the Playhouse's previous production, "The Vagina Monologues." She admitted that "Sometimes it's difficult to switch gears, especially when both rehearsals were scheduled at almost the same time, in the same building."
Barnhart also had to work around the reality that these were two very different plays. "I got the actors from 'The Vagina Monologues' to say their lines very quietly in the theater while the children were down in the lobby rehearsing 'Curiosity Cat,'" she said. "Directing two shows at once is not fun, even if the results of both are very satisfying," she admitted.
After "Curiosity Cat," the Playhouse's 43rd summer season will continue Aug. 15-18 with a readers' theater production of "The Congressman," a comedy by W. A. Parker, adapted and directed by Charles Calabrese of Wintersville. "The Congressman" tells the story of a crooked politician attempting to redeem himself and his relationship with his family.
The season closes with Ken Ludwig's comedy-mystery, "The Game's Afoot or, Holmes for the Holidays," directed by Diana Mendel of Wellsburg, to be presented Aug. 22-24 and 29-31
As was the case last season, all Friday and Saturday performances will be at 8. p.m. and all Sunday performances will be 2.p.m. matinees.