Local Arts

Review: ‘A Sick Day for Amos McGee’ teaches children to live with compassion, empathy

Amos McGee’s animal friends leave the zoo where he’s a caretaker to visit him when he’s ill in “A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” playing at ImaginOn through Sept. 1.
Amos McGee’s animal friends leave the zoo where he’s a caretaker to visit him when he’s ill in “A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” playing at ImaginOn through Sept. 1. Courtesy of Children's Theatre of Charlotte

Whenever I see a show at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte — especially one targeting preschoolers, as I did Thursday morning — I always wonder if bullies and egomaniacs would behave more humanely if they’d been exposed to this kind of art as a child.

Maybe they wouldn’t be obsessed with winning by grinding people unlike them into the dust. Maybe they’d envision a world where everybody wins through respectful cooperation. That’s the unspoken but easily absorbed idea behind “A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” a 40-minute one-act done as part of CTC’s ongoing Kindness Project.

The story couldn’t be simpler. Amos and a mouse live near the city zoo, where he works as a caretaker. Each day, they rise early to see their animal friends: a chess-playing elephant, a shy penguin, a spry old tortoise who wins footraces that have been rigged by Amos, an allergy-ridden rhino and an owl who likes to be read to sleep, because he’s a bit afraid of the dark.

One day, Amos falls ill. The bewildered beasts brave city traffic to get to his house and offer the empathy he shows them. Nicole B. Adkins’ adaptation of the Caldecott Medal-winning book by Philip and Erin Stead earns its place in the Kindness Project by showing us that compassion should be part of everyday life, not a response to unusual events. Nor is it reserved for our species; animals feel things deeply, as any intelligent pet owner knows, repaying love with love.

Director Melissa Ohlman-Roberge and her crew strike an unusual balance between reality and fantasy. All seven characters are life-sized puppets adroitly manipulated by Ron Lee McGill, Kevin Sario and Lydia Williamson, who also narrate and speak for Amos. (Elephant and Rhino are head-and-shoulders creations operated from behind.) Yet designer Scottie Powell’s endearing puppets quickly become real to kids, and these true-to-life animals squeak and grunt meaningfully instead of speaking.

A cardboard bus takes Amos to work, and we hear air brakes. When Amos prepares breakfast, we hear the steamy screech of a kettle and a gurgle of liquid as he “pours” tea into his cup. Sound designer Maria Württele keeps us grounded in this place of foam and glue, where even a red balloon remains a flat object moved skyward on a rod and stick. We’re inside the story and, metaphorically, in the world we know at the same time.

“A Sick Day for Amos McGee”

When: Through Sept. 1 at 11 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday, Also 3 p.m. Aug. 24 and 9:30 a.m. Aug. 31.

Where: ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.

Tickets: $10-$18.

Details: 704-973-2828 or ctcharlotte.org.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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