How can you not love Winnie the Pooh? He’s cute, cuddly, and all he wants is honey – lots and lots of honey.
Olympia Family Theater is putting on the children’s play “Winnie the Pooh” in the black box theater at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College. The play, based on the popular children’s stories by A. A. Milne, was written by Kristin Sergel. The production is directed by Jen Ryle and stars Martin “Boojie” Waldron as Pooh, Sigal Rose Gerson Kadden as Piglet, Raychel A. Wagner as Eeyore, Ted Ryle as Owl, Heather Matthews as Rabbit, Kim Holm as Kanga, Amanda Christopher as Roo, and Joel Christopher as Christopher Robin. A chorus of cute unnamed animals (which are probably meant to be bunny rabbits based on their long ears and the fact that they do the bunny hop) is made up of Maya Jolley, Dominick McClure, Emily Charles and Kathline McClure.
I list the entire cast for two reasons: first because each cast member deserves credit for a job well done, and second to point out the nature of Olympia Family Theater. This is not a children’s theater, meaning a theater company made up mostly of children and amateur actors, but rather it is a troupe of professional-level actors dedicated to entertaining children, much like Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater, both of which are patterned after Seattle Children’s Theater. Their plays are crafted to appeal to children, usually with some playful audience participation, but presented by skilled and seasoned actors.
The set for “Pooh” was designed by Jon Tallman and includes a large and fanciful tree house or cave (it’s hard to tell exactly which), flat sideways trees suspended by wires, and simple but effective lighting, also by Tallman.
The story is about what happens when the tranquility of the Hundred Acre Woods is disrupted by the arrival of a new creature, the frightening Kanga, played with great haughtiness by Kim Holm, and her child, Roo. What’s so scary about Kanga is that she is an overly motherly mother who is obsessed with cleanliness. She wants to give everybody a bath. And when her charges say something that’s not nice, she washes their mouths out with soap.
Everyone panics when they hear that Kanga is coming. None of them has ever had a bath of course, and the thought of it is quite frightening. Owl wants to call a meeting and insists that everything must be done according to standard procedures (a case of humor geared at children with underlying satire aimed at the parents in attendance). Eeyore, who is perpetually depressed, just accepts that everything is going to be terrible anyway, and all Pooh can think about is getting his paws on some honey.
Thirteen-year-old Joel Christopher underplays emotion in Pooh’s human friend Christopher Robin. Throughout much of the play he is cool and calm, but his character gets afraid at one point, and he portrays fear convincingly.
Waldron is thoroughly charming as Pooh. When he expresses his love of honey, he reminds me of Homer Simpson’s famous “mmmmm.”
Ryle and Holm are the most animated of all the actors as Owl and Kanga, respectively. And Kadden is loveable as the innocent and sweet Piglet. But my favorite actor in this production has to be Wagner as Eeyore. Seldom have I seen an actor portray dejection and depression so comically. She slumps, she practically drags her knuckles on the floor, she moans and turns her eyes heavenward, and I found myself looking forward to each time she would react with such a flat and funny expression.
All-in-all “Winnie the Pooh” is an endearing play with nothing more frightening than an overzealous mother forcing a kid to take a bath. And it’s short enough that there’s little chance of children getting antsy. Other than one crying baby, the children there on the day I attended had a wonderful time.
Warning for parents who may not want their children to have sweets: Candy is given out to the audience.
Winnie the Pooh
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday through June 14
WHERE: South Puget Sound Community College Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Road S.W., Olympia
TICKETS: $15 adult; $12 seniors; $10 ages 13-18; $8 for 12 and younger; tickets at www.buyolympia.com/events or at the door; May 28 is Thrifty Thursday – all tickets $5 at the door