August 14, 2014

‘Uh-Oh’: Theater for the tiniest fans

Children’s Theatre of Charlotte presents theater for toddlers by PlayPlay!

A brown-hired toddler ambled through a maze of pillows before finding the perfect seat on his mother’s lap. A girl with blond curls and a red bow stared at the artist before the easel, as he painted a picture in thick strokes. In “Uh-Oh,” PlayPlay! introduces the diaper set to the mystery and magic of performance art.

The creative duo at the helm of this “theater for the very young” is Mark and Meredith Sutton, who have developed an intimate theatrical experience that celebrates the five senses. Parents and grandparents bring little ones right onto the stage at Wells Fargo Playhouse, where actors are already in motion.

Barefooted Mark wears a beret and is engrossed in creating pictures of animals with thick blue paint. Meredith, in pigtails and a colorful outfit built around overalls, engages the audience with simple movements. First she plays peek-a-boo. Then she shakes a large piece of paper until it wiggles. Her gentle distractions draw Mark from his work; soon the two of them are playing, as Meredith withdraws a treasure trove of goodies from a wicker trunk.

The rapt attention of the audience (only one crying child was whisked away) validates the effectiveness of simple play. Meredith and Mark seldom speak, and when they do, it is monosyllabic. They make a lot of noises: dripping sounds, the rattling of a wooden spoon stirring a metal pan, the sounds they imagine a ball rolling back and forth would make if it could. A ukulele and a violin play minor roles.

Fabric is a successful tool in their toy box. A short black scarf is manipulated to look like a walking animal. A flowing yellow banner turns into wings on Meredith’s shoulders, as she moves like a bird. The same banner serves as a temporary shelter, while she tiptoes through the audience and holds it above each child’s head. Eric Winkenwerder’s lighting illuminates a wide piece of cloth; it’s effervescent as it wafts toward the ceiling and shimmering as a sunlit river as it descends.

The show segues into a peaceful onstage playdate. How clever to invite the children to be part of the production by which they were charmed. “Uh-Oh” is a welcome reminder that simple pleasures are just that.

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