Arts & Culture

Have you heard the one about a squirrel, a vacuum cleaner, and a little bit of magic?

Courtesy of Olympia Family Theater

Girl meets squirrel in Olympia Family Theater’s “Flora & Ulysses,” based on the Newbery Medal-winning 2014 book by Kate DiCamillo.

The production, opening Friday (Feb. 1), begins with Flora (Korja Giles) rescuing the squirrel, Ulysses, from a vacuum cleaner — an incident that leads the fluffy-tailed rodent to develop both superpowers and the ability to understand English.

“The squirrel becomes the superhero of Flora’s life — similar to the superheroes in the comic books she loves,” said Jen Ryle, the theater’s artistic director and the production’s director. “Flora’s love and care for the squirrel and belief in him give him the confidence to become the superhero she wants him to be. It’s really quite sweet.”

Ulysses — puppeteered by Ryan Holmberg, the man behind the fish in the theater’s 2017 production “Fishnapped” — doesn’t speak, but the audience can hear his thoughts, voiced by Holmberg.

The miraculous mammal also is capable of written communication. “The squirrel types,” Ryle told The Olympian. “He writes poetry on a typewriter.”

Like her animal companion, Flora loves words — especially words that appear, comic-book style, inside a bubble.

In the book, she imagines the words. “It was a comforting thing to have words hanging over her head,” DiCamillo wrote.

The play, adapted by John Glore, literally puts them there; characters’ thoughts are projected onto the set.

“It’s an integral part of the storytelling,” Ryle said. “The whole set looks like the pages of a comic book, and there are vintage-style comic-book ads, and it’s very colorful and fun.”

“Flora & Ulysses” is the third of DiCamillo’s works to appear on the family theater stage, following 2015’s “Mercy Watson to the Rescue,” about a mischievous pig, and last year’s “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” about the world travels of a stuffed rabbit.

DiCamillo, one of only six authors to have won two Newbery Medals, tells tales that are well suited for the stage, Ryle said.

“She has great characters,” the director said. “They experience a whole range of emotions from joy to sadness, and it feels authentic. They’re also really funny.”

“Edward” opened in March, just two weeks after DiCamillo visited South Sound as part of the annual Lacey Loves to Read program.

Ryle was thrilled by the timing.

“It was kismet,” she said. “She got to see a scene from our play and meet one of our Edward dolls. I have a picture of her with our Edward. She put her reading glasses on him.

“I got to meet one of my favorite authors,” she said.

DiCamillo clearly enjoyed the scene, Ryle added. “I heard her laugh, and she also had some tears.”

‘Flora & Ulysses’

  • What: Olympia Family Theater presents the story of a comic-loving cynic and her superhero squirrel.

  • When: 7 p.m. Friday (Feb. 1) plus Feb. 7, 8, 14 and 15, and 2 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 2) and Sunday (Feb. 3) plus Feb. 9, 10, 16 and 17

  • Where: Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

  • Tickets: $15-$20; for the Feb. 7 show, pay what you can.

  • More information: 360-570-1638,