I try to bring a kid along (a friend or relative, not a random kid I've abducted from the street) when I'm reviewing a kids' show. I can't really gauge audience reaction, sometimes, if I'm observing a bunch of children I don't know. Especially for a show like Two Bad Mice, currently at Great Arizona Puppet Theater. It reels them in subtly.
My youngest great-nephews are 2 and 4, and they're men's men from Chandler. They love sharks and power tools. They have no sisters. They scream a lot. This puppet show, based on a story by the charmingly twee Beatrix Potter, takes place in a freakin' dollhouse. And as we started toward Phoenix, Older Neph murmured politely, "I don't like puppets."
Deep breath. "But these puppets are mice," I offered, trying to make mice sound radical and butch. It worked! The convo for the rest of the trip (well, except for the thrills of the airport and the Deck Park tunnel) was about how baaad these two mice are. (They trash the dollhouse, and I'm sure the guys found that relatable.)
By the time we sat down, they were pretty stoked, which was good, because lovely actress-puppeteer Gwen Bonar needed a few minutes with the dolls (who are inanimate, because they're dolls, not puppets -- keep up, now) to get through the exposition, and although her song is super-cute, it is all about a dollhouse. Then Gwen took the dolls for a walk outside, and the mice appeared.
All hell broke loose, in a good way. Tom Thumb and his wife, Hunca Munca (Potter named them after characters in a Henry Fielding play -- no one could tell that broad what to do!), knock things over, get doll furnishings stuck on their noses, and steal a few items from the dolls, in hysterical furniture-moving sequences that probably remind the nippers of their own parents trying to place a couch or TV. The time-honored device of repetition makes the high jinks even funnier.
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The story has a happy ending, with the mice making restitution (!) and living as good neighbors to the dolls for the foreseeable future. Potter not only had real mice as models for this story, she kept Hunca Munca as a pet for years (claiming the mouse was a good housekeeper and really did have a weakness for lace and ribbons), and she knew the dollhouse owner (her publisher-boyfriend's niece).
That may be why the story feels so possible and fresh. It also garnered the author her first American fan letter -- from a boy.
Two Bad Mice continues through August 22, at Great Arizona Puppet Theater, 302 West Latham Street. Click here for showtimes and stuff, or call 602-262-2050 to make a reservation -- tickets for kids 2 through 15 are $6, and it's $8 for everyone else.
Tonight and tomorrow, Friday, August 6, and Saturday, August 7, you can also catch the periodic adults-only Puppet Slam (seriously, bring ID) at 8 p.m., for $10 on the day of the show or $8 in advance. This month's slam features, along with the usual suspects, Puppet Sexstravaganza from Tucson Puppet Works, just so you know what you (and they) are getting into.