Walking into the lobby of CATCO’s space in the Vern Riffe Center prior to a performance of CATCO is Kid’s production of Beauty and the Beast: Isabella e la Bestia, almost feels like wandering the streets the evening of Halloween. Parents escort their children; the boys jump around with the typical energy of little boys, and most girls arrive donned in their princess best. It’s a fun sight. A raw excitement fills the space as the audience finds their seats.
Once inside, the anticipation grows yet stronger, heightened by the grandiosity upon the stage. Stephanie R. Gerckens’ bombastic pop-up book of a set instantly sets the mood, eluding to the hyperbolic journey that prepares to unfold. A deep bow to scenic artist Edith Dinger Wadkins for the fine painting of Gerckens’ excellent set.
This is no Disney story. Rather, Steven C. Anderson’s adaptation strives to tell the tale of Belle (Isabella) and the beast through the almost extinct theatrical styling of commedia dell’Arte. An Italian theater style dating to the 1500s, commedia dell’Arte portrays masked stereotypes performing various highly physical comedic roles and actions. No worries for the novice, the cast enlightens the audience in the first five to ten minutes by demonstrating core concepts of the craft. Cliff notes for comedy.
As a joint production between CATCO is Kids and Columbus State Community College, the show features a plethora of young actors, who bring ample energy to this ensemble piece. Especially fun are the three Zannis (fools), played by Ayla Stirnaman, Jordan Phillips, and Elise Randall. Their chemistry as a trio of buffoons almost steals the show. Jeff Horst as the trickster Arlecchino jumps in the mix, displaying expert physicality and providing the plot. Special mention must also go to Ben Sostrom as Il Datore, whose antics conjure up a smile.
Anderson’s upbeat and entertaining script pairs nicely with director Joe Bishara’s well paced staging, although the overuse of lazzos (stock comedic bits, basically) and the subsequent sound cue grows tiring at times. Sometimes it seems as though general actor movement gets confused for lazzos. However, the interactivity of these actions adds further fun for youngsters. Even a one hour show can really seem like an eternity to a child, but Bishara’s direction keeps it going to alleviate some squirming.
Marcia Hain’s costume design creates a cornucopia of colors and flair that entertain almost as much as the performers. Hain’s costumes dance upon Gercken’s playful set, which often seems overpowered by a flood of light. The masks, an essential component to commedia dell’Arte, hold their own, each one contributing to the spectacle of the play.
Though a kid’s show, adults can find many snickers and chuckles throughout Beauty and the Beast, without the so-typical innuendo blatant in many children’s stories. I commend Anderson and Bishara for not loading the production with subtle saucy references to appease parents. The show and its style remain entertaining enough, especially while enjoying the atmosphere of the audience’s energy.
Beauty and the Beast plays until Jan. 27, in Studio One of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Sat & Sun. at 1 pm and 2:30 pm; Sat., Jan. 26 at 4 pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children.
More information can be found online at www.catcoistheatre.org.