Lawrence Toppman

Weird ‘Coraline’ gives us willies – as it ought to

Coraline (Parker Mullet) tries to free the spirits of dead children (including Aubrey Young, back) from a predatory creature in “Coraline.”
Coraline (Parker Mullet) tries to free the spirits of dead children (including Aubrey Young, back) from a predatory creature in “Coraline.”

“Coraline” opens the “Adventurer” series at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, and I can’t think of a more suitable choice. Adventures often lead into places that are dark, confusing, a little frightening and more than a little weird – and we often need help finding our way out.

That suits the play by David Greenspan, which stays faithful to Neil Gaiman’s novel and Henry Selick’s screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film. Animation suits this story best, because you can create anything you imagine. But CTC’s array of puppets, masks, outsized props, deathly makeup and spooky lighting does well by this tale.

Middle-schooler Coraline waits in a lonely rural house for the academic year to start. Her inattentive parents offer no relief; the elderly gent upstairs seldom takes time away from training the mice in his tiny circus, and the terrier-obsessed old ladies downstairs seem lost in a world of theatrical memories.

So when the girl passes through a door she thought would lead nowhere, she’s briefly tempted by the Other Mother and Other Father, who ply her with food, toys and attention. They’re willing to do that forever, if she’ll let them replace her eyes with black buttons. When she realizes the Other Mother has kidnapped her parents, she sets out to release them and the souls of other children who have died in this forbidding domain.

Director Mark Sutton likes to find humor even in dark stories, and he emphasizes the silly strangeness of the mouse trainer and the old ladies. Everything’s at least slightly askew or disturbing in Tom Burch’s scenic design, from the crooked doors to Coraline’s prison cell of a bedroom.

Indie musician Stephin Merritt (of the band Magnetic Fields) has composed a score that can be beautifully simple or complicatedly ugly. (Listen to the way Coraline’s once-pretty themes become edgier after she has been to the Other Mother’s world and come back to her own for the first time.)

CTC artistic director Adam Burke has enthusiastically sought collaborators, and “Coraline” represents not only a pairing with UNC Charlotte (which supplied actors and part of the design team) but also Moving Poets Charlotte, whose leader Till Schmidt-Rimpler did choreography.

The actors come from all over, too. Parker Mullet, a seventh-grader at Southlake Christian Academy, makes a plucky Coraline, though she never seems frightened or anxious by what’s going on. Grant Watkins, a regular at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, brings pathos to the crumbling Other Father; Nicia Carla, who has worked for many troupes, makes a glamorously unsettling Other Mother.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Coraline’

When: Through Oct. 31 on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Also Oct. 18 at 3 p.m. And an adults-only show for ages 21 and over starts at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 and includes two drinks and appetizers.

Where: ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.

Running time: 95 minutes.

Tickets: $12-$26.

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

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