Go, Dog, Go – Theatre Review: Childsplay, Tempe Center for the Arts, Tempe

What delighted Childsplay audiences in Tempe more than six years ago has returned for the holiday season to delight valley audiences all over again. Based on the 1961 children’s book, written and illustrated by screenwriter and protégé of Theodor Geisel, P.D. Eastman, the six rambunctious pups of Go, Dog, Go spring from the page to the stage and bring Eastman’s hugely popular book to colorful life.

Once he’s finished chasing his tail, Jon Gentry as the Master of Ceremonies dog leads the energetic pack in a series of situations aimed at introducing children to concepts they may never have considered, such as colors, their differences, how they’re mixed, and how to have fun with them.

Red Dog on a blue tree,” he’ll announce as Red Dog (Michael Thompson) climbs a blue colored tree. “Blue dog on a red tree,” he’ll continue as Blue Dog (Adam Sowards) takes his position, “And Green Dog on a yellow tree,” as Green Dog (Brynn Lewallen) does the same. But once the scene is set and the three colored trees are occupied, the excitable Yellow Dog (Caitlin Dhuse) suddenly finds herself stranded with no tree of her own, until, that is, the sun rises and she joyfully discovers she’s the same color as that great, shiny ball in the sky. Like the book, the play is indicating how to notice both the importance and the meaning of small things around us all and how we can find our place. And the fun of playing with color is only the beginning.

From there, Gentry’s MC Dog shows us Dogs at Work, Dogs at Play, Dogs on the Water, Dogs under the Water, and with the help of a comically oversized light switch, Dogs who need to go to sleep because night is the time for sleep, not for play.

Whether it was intentional or not is difficult to say, but with music director Rob Witmer’s continual accordion play accompanying the action, much of what you see and hear appears as though inspired from European mime artists, the kind you might catch performing on the street along the Champs Elysées. When MC Dog uses a challenging measuring tape across the stage during Dogs at Work, with that accordion music behind him, the moment, the clumsy use of the tape, and the mime all create a scene faintly reminiscent of something Jacques Tati might have developed specifically for children.

As with Eastman’s illustrated book, the play may be plot free, but there is a running story of sorts revolving around a pink poodle called Hattie (Jennie Rhiner) and her hat with the little flower. When she first struts the stage, she stops and asks MC Dog, “Do you like my hat?” His answer is simple. “I do not,” he responds, adding, “Goodbye.” Undeterred, Hattie later returns with a slightly larger hat, where she asks MC Dog the same question. She gets the same response. After several tries more, Hattie emerges with a seasonally elaborate hat where she once again asks if MC Dog likes what she’s wearing. After a pause, he smiles and says he does, and a bond is formed. In a way that children will get, the play has introduced a theme of developing a friendship. During Saturday afternoon’s matinee, when MC Dog smiled, children cheered and applauded. Lesson learned.

Though not necessarily possessing a Christmas theme, the show incorporates the end of the year holiday season with a colorfully yuletide conclusion, and it’s not only Hattie’s glittering Christmas Tree hat (complete with a star at the top) that lights the stage. Holiday lights flank the sides of the theatre’s tall proscenium arch, a sight that resulted with all kinds of audible “Oohs” from a delighted young audience. And if anyone knows how to have fun when its time to party at Christmas, it’s P.D. Eastman’s six playful pups.

The show is aimed at the same age group as the book, ages 3 to 6, but, in truth, if you enjoy clever theatrics, physical comedy, and vaudeville in general, not to mention six boisterous pups barking in musical harmony, then as a parent you’ll enjoy this highly skilled Andrés Alcalá directed Childsplay production as much the child you’ve accompanied, just for different reasons.

Pictures courtesy of Tim Trumble

Go, Dog, Go continues its run at Tempe Center for the Arts, Tempe until December 23

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