Review by Julia Silverman – Portland mama to Ben and Elly (age 3) and PDX Kids Calendar reader
Go ahead, ask any kid in Portland what happens if you give a mouse a cookie. Dollars to doughnuts, they’ll tell you that he’ll ask you for a glass of milk. And if they’re anything like my kids, they’ll keep going: “And a straw! And then a napkin, and a mirror to check for a milk mustache, and, and, and…”
Laura Numeroff’s well-loved modern classic is a natural for a theater adaption, and the Oregon Children’s Theatre’s new production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, running through June 3 at the Newmark Theater, is just right for its audience.
There are just two characters – Matt Haynes as the polite, put-upon “Boy” and Kerry Ryan as the mischievous, well-intentioned “Mouse,” plus a simple, brightly designed backdrop of a kitchen from a mouse’s-eye-view (read: everything is oversized and the drawers can be scaled like a ladder).
The show features some very funny physical comedy bits, including a grand finale that sees the mouse, while attempting to helpfully attach the family portrait he’s drawn onto the boy’s refrigerator, somehow becoming entangled in what looks to be about 40 feet of packing tape. Ryan winds up swinging from the freezer door, braying for help while the audience howls. The biggest laugh, though, comes when the mouse chug-a-lugs a carton of milk, then lets fly with an enormous, amplified belch – that one had my kids in stitches, and everyone else’s too.
Things do bog down a bit in the middle of the show, when the production deviates from the book a bit; the boy is reading aloud a story about an Amazonian superhero, in a desperate attempt to lull the mouse to sleep; so engrossed is Haynes’s character in the story that he doesn’t even realize that the mouse is jubilantly pantomiming the whole story, mugging happily for the audience. The laughs here were a little lost on the preschoolers in the crowd; that’s why the production might be better suited for pre-kindergarteners and up, who are more likely to get the joke.
In Numeroff’s book, the massive mess the mouse is making takes a backseat to his antics, but the resulting chaos is front and center in the stage production, opening the door for some interesting conversations with your child about what it means to be both a good host and a polite guest.
And I can’t have been the only parent in the audience who identified with Haynes’s character, who spends the entire production cleaning up messes, catering to a small tyrant’s every whim, receiving an endless stream of chatter and trying to cajole his charge into taking a nap so he can have a moment of blessed peace to read his book, and eat a cookie.
Lessons learned – and don’t be surprised if at the end of the show, your child asks for a cookie, and a glass of milk to go with it.