Give Your Attention to Circa’s “Give a Mouse a Cookie”

“If You Give A Mouse A Cookie”

at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, 1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island, through July 30. Call (309) 786-7733, ext. 2 for tickets and showtimes.

By Sean Leary

Part of me is always a little impressed by the authors of children’s shows based on beginning reader’s books. Let’s face it, they’ve got to come up with a 60-70 page stageplay using little more than an extremely basic plot and characters, not to mention sets that don’t often lend themselves to the stage.

So ultimately, it’s all about the writer: Can they stretch their imagination enough to come up with an interesting, compelling, entertaining story that’s going to engage children for an hour (tough enough gig there) while not disappointing those little fans of the source material coming in and asking why the people on stage aren’t doing exactly what went on in their favorite book, and why the people are still on stage beyond the five or so minutes it takes their parent to read said tome.

“If You Give A Mouse A Cookie,” adapted by Jody Davidson and based on the fun, classic kids book by Laura Joffe Numeroff, mostly succeeds in its goal. It’s got a couple of laggy parts, but for the most part it moves along briskly and hilariously and it presents jokes that are right in the wheelhouse of its audience. And that is a wheelhouse that revels in humor about boogers, strange behavior and, of course, people seeing your underpants.

But then again, that’s why I really liked it. I have a three-year-old son, Jackson, and I often read him the book, which is why I picked this as his first experience at a Circa ’21 show. And sure enough, Jackson cracked up at every goofy, kiddie joke ‘” along with the vast majority of the other kids in the crowd.

There are few more beautiful sounds than a child’s laughter, especially when that child is your own, and in that regard “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” plays a wonderful symphony. Jackson and the other children absolutely enjoyed it, and were literally sitting at the edge of their seats watching the goofball tale unfold.

And goofball tale pretty much sums it up. The plot follows the basic conceit of the book, that a child gives a mouse a cookie and chaos unfolds as the mouse’s wants, needs and demands escalate. Same thing happens here, only in more elaborate fashion, and they’re presented quite charmingly.

Director Kimberly Furness shows a loose hand in letting the physical comedy (always a big fave with tykes) play big and bold and gives her actors a large playground to mess about in, to great effect.

Janos Horvath, who is one of the most likeable stage presences in the Quad-Cities theater scene, is terrific playing the little boy who narrates the tale and becomes the mouse’s gofer and friend. Horvath has such a childlike charm and wonder to him as it is that he beams as the child.

Daniel Rairdin-Hale hits just the right tone as the mouse. In different hands, the rambunctious rodent could come across as cloying, annoying or obnoxious, but Rairdin-Hale plays him just the right way: wide-eyed, bumbling and innocently self-centered rather than cunningly selfish. His open-faced glee captivated the kids and his way with physical comedy got the audience cracking up again and again.

Stealing the show in her brief stage time is Jennifer Weingarten, who plays a mirror reflection of the mouse with such verve and wit that you wish there was a way for her to pop up again at some point.

There were a couple of spots where the narrative got a little boggy and I, and the kids around me, started to glaze over and get antsy, but those bits are usually caged within more active bookends that jolted us out of our dangerous veer towards boredom and into more engaging territories.

In all, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” is quite a fun, charming show that kids will certainly enjoy (Jackson gave it a high recommendation and his smiles throughout definitely made it a great experience for me) and parents will find mostly entertaining for its content, greatly entertaining for being able to share in the joy of their children. Give this mouse more than a cookie, buy a ticket and give it your support.

Copyright 2011 Sean Leary