SALT LAKE CITY — If you ask anybody who has ever been read bedtime stories to finish the sentence, “If you give a mouse a cookie . . .” they will respond, “. . . he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.” And so begins the classic children’s book by Laura Joffe Numeroff about a young boy who finds that there are always strings attached when it comes to helping strange rodents. Or maybe it’s just a clever tale exploring cause and effect. Either way, this book, beloved by millions, has been adapted into a play by Jody Davidson that will be just as big of a hit with any child attending Salt Lake Acting Company’s production directed by Penelope Marantz Caywood.
Both of us admitted to each other that we are usually wary of theatrical adaptations of popular children’s books because many of them turn out to be a poor substitution for (or even companion to) the original text. This was a solid adaptation, however. It maintained the sequence of events from the original, yet introduced some unique elements to expand the scope of the story. The book merely tells the events of the story in the form of “if…then…,” but the play adds in the emotion and thoughts of both the boy (Michael Gardner) and the mouse (Dustin Bolt). There was also the addition of musical interludes (with original music by sound designer David Evanoff) in which the characters would enter into imaginative sequences of dance or physical comedy, involving light saber battles or jam sessions with enlarged straws for instruments. The kids were giggling constantly, but occasionally the interludes seemed a bit extensive and too frequent for us.
While children will really enjoy everything that this show has to offer, we couldn’t help but examine the play itself with a critical eye. The musical interludes were entertaining, but they left us confused as to why the boy, who usually seemed (rightfully) annoyed with this intruder, seemed to suddenly enjoy his company as they would play together.
We realize that the target audience for this show is children and we may be looking too deep, but we were left wishing that the characters had learned something. It doesn’t have to be some profound truth about the meaning of life, but in the end shouldn’t the characters be different in some way than when they started? Maybe the boy learns that the mouse really means well, or perhaps the mouse learns that he can sometimes come across as too needy. Instead the message we get is, “don’t let strange mice into your home because they are destructive and annoying.” And maybe that is exactly what the author/playwright intended—who knows? We can only assume that the boy and mouse did actually become friends as evidenced in the follow-up story, “If You Take A Mouse To The Movies.”
The production design was a lot of fun. The set, by designer Kevin Myhre, looked like a page right out of the book. All props and dressing was oversized, dwarfing the actors to appear as a young boy and a mouse.
Overall, SLAC seems to be an awesome theatre company. This is their second annual children’s show, and we look forward to seeing what other productions they will offer in the future. Everyone there was super friendly, and because we were fortunate enough to attend on opening night, we were treated to a milk and cookie reception. Shannon, the house manager, came out before the show to educate the children (and theatre newbies) about theatre etiquette, how theatre is different from other forms of entertainment, and what the responsibility is of the audience. We really appreciated this orientation and feel it is important to educate a new generation of theatregoers. Well done, Shannon. And well done, SLAC. We will definitely be returning to see another production just because it was so nice being there.