Olympia Family Theater opens its season Friday (Oct. 9) with “Mercy Watson to the Rescue.”
Mercy, a pig who lives with humans and loves buttered toast, is a most unlikely hero, and though she’s featured in a series of beloved books by Kate DiCamillo, she’s definitely the least well-known hero in the company’s season.
Since her first adventure was published in 2005, Mercy hasn’t yet become a household name compared with the likes of Charlie Brown (“A Charlie Brown Christmas”) and Peter Rabbit (“Peter Rabbit and Me”).
The season focuses on plays appropriate for all ages and adapted from popular books, including “A Year With Frog and Toad,” which the theater will produce for the third time.
“These are books that were completely unfamiliar to me,” said Jen Ryle, the theater’s artistic director. “My kids are too old, I guess.”
But Mercy is — like Wilbur of “Charlotte’s Web” — some pig.
She’s single-minded in her pursuit of toast. (Prop artist Jan Rocks created much of the toast from painted upholstery foam with felt crust, but some of it is real toast that’s eaten on stage.)
“In her quest for more toast, she inadvertently saves people,” Ryle said. “A man at a movie theater is eating buttered popcorn, and she is snuffling around at that butter and ends up saving him from choking on a piece of popcorn. She becomes the hero of her own story without really meaning to.”
“Mercy has that self-absorbed quality that little kids have,” said Kathy Dorgan, the play’s director. “She’s unaware — like a toddler who will pull something off a table, not aware that everything else will fall off the table with it.”
Mercy is a pig of few words — mostly, as you might guess, “toast” and “butter.”
But the playful pig is sure to have plenty of personality. She’s played by Kate Ayers, whose gift for physical comedy is well known to regular theatergoers. Ayers also has a penchant for playing nonhuman characters — including her Olympia Family Theater roles as Mr. Tumnus in 2013’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Piglet in 2014’s “The House at Pooh Corner” and Huckle Cat in 2014’s “Busytown.”
Ryle discovered Mercy through the script, adapted by Victoria Stewart.
“It’s extremely funny and has a lot of physical humor and just really fun characters,” she said.
And when she sought out the books, she was charmed by the 1950s feeling of the illustrations. “It’s kind of like ‘Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver Adopt a Pig,’ ” she said.
If Mercy isn’t yet a household name, DiCamillo is well on her way. She wrote “Because of Winn Dixie” and the Newbery winner “The Tale of Despereaux,” both of which have been made into films.
And even if you’re too old to know Mercy, there will be something in the play for you, said Dorgan, who’s never directed a show targeted at younger children.
“As with any really good children’s book or play, there are things in there for the adults that go right over the kids’ heads,” she said. “We’ve put some of those in.
“Little kids are going to think it’s funny that Mercy eats toast and that she bumps into people,” she added. “Older people are going to get the fact that she’s doing all this stuff totally unaware that she’s doing it.”
MERCY WATSON TO THE RESCUE
What: Olympia Family Theater opens its season with the story of a young pig who’s been adopted by a human family.
When: 7 p.m. Friday (Oct. 9), Oct. 16, 23 and 30, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, Oct. 17-18, 24-25 and Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
Where: Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia.
Tickets: $19; $16 for students, seniors and military; $13 for youth 12 and younger. Available at olyft.org or at the box office. For the Oct. 16 performance, pay what you can; tickets for that performance are available only at the box office beginning at noon the day of the show.
Information: 360-570-1638, olyft.org.
THE REST OF THE SEASON
Nov. 27-Dec. 20: “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” based on the classic TV special, follows the holiday happenings of the unlucky boy, his crew of Peanuts characters and his stunted tree.
Jan. 29-Feb. 14: “Charlotte’s Web” is an adaptation of E.B. White’s novel about a young girl, her pet pig and a very smart spider.
March 18- April 3: “Peter Rabbit and Me” is a play based on the “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and on the life of author Beatrix Potter.
May 13- June 5: “A Year With Frog and Toad,” based on Arnold Lobel’s book, follows the odd-couple friendship of optimistic Frog and grouchy Toad.
Season tickets: $66.50; $56 for students, seniors and military; $45.50 for youth. Also available are a six-ticket flex pass and a three-show subscription.