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Amos McGee wakes up every morning before sunrise. He drinks tea with his roommate the mouse, puts on his uniform, and catches the bus at 6:00 AM sharp to make his way to the City Zoo. Amos is the caretaker for all the animals – most notably an elephant, a rhino, an owl, a penguin, and a tortoise. Like Amos, those animals wake up early, too; it's not that they have much to do, but they just can't wait for their friend to arrive.
Children's Theatre of Charlotte's A Sick Day for Amos McGee doesn’t get much more complicated than those opening lines: a children's book of the same name by Philip C. Stead adapted for a puppet play by Nicole B. Adkins, A Sick Day depicts the way a zookeeper takes care of his animals and the way they take care of him in return. This 45-minute children's play, through its straightforward simplicity, demonstrated the purity of true friendship and how people really ought to behave. It was an example set not only for myself and fellow audience members (the majority of which were small enough to make most seats look vacant from behind), but for all of humanity.
Puppeteers Ron Lee McGill, Kevin Sario, and Lydia Williamson enter the Wells Fargo Playhouse through the audience. In their green and white striped suits and brown hats, they welcome viewers with shadow puppets and red balloons that bounced through the crowd. When the play begins, one puppeteer holds a wooden balloon prop (that is successfully made to look like it is floating) and passes it around between the three cast members, introducing the central themes of friendship and kindness. The three stand beneath a set of two large, green trees that frame the stage and a projection screen in the middle (scenic design by Andrew Gibbon). The screen, something which often proves trite, was very successful in this production, providing for theatrical magic throughout, like when the wooden balloon prop is sent out into the wind; a puppeteer walks behind the projection with the balloon, and in a seamless transition, it floats away on the screen.
After depicting Amos' morning ritual, the play moves on to show Amos' habitual workday, beginning with his arrival at the zoo to the five anticipating animals. All the puppets were outstanding works of art (designed by Scottie Rowell). Particularly wonderful were the two largest animals, the rhino and the elephant, each a front half of their respective creatures with large and striking heads that moved supplely with the help of their puppeteers.
Each animal gets its own special time with Amos, who greets each one gently and with care. The rhino often has a runny nose, so Amos wipes it with a handkerchief; the penguin likes to watch the other penguins play, so Amos does so, too. With the elephant, he plays chess and often has to wait for long periods while the elephant contemplates his next move, but it's alright; Amos is patient. The owl is scared of the dark, so Amos reads him to sleep; Amos is kind. Finally, the tortoise likes to exercise, and he and Amos have a race everyday (the tortoise wins, but there're no hard feelings, for Amos does not envy). The puppeteers were able to manipulate the puppets nimbly and portray their characters with spirit, drawing gasps and laughs and chants (“Tor-toise! Tor-toise!”) from the audience.
On this particular day, Amos does not show up to work. The animals, after some worry and confusion, determine that he must be sick. After all Amos does for them, they know it would only be fair to do the same, and not only that, but they genuinely want to be with him. The five animals make their way out of the zoo and onto the bus to get to Amos' house. At his house, they find Amos asleep, and the mouse pleads for them to stay quiet. Inevitably, with one sneeze from the rhino, Amos is jolted awake. But it's no sweat, because Amos is not easily angered, and in fact, he is overjoyed to see his friends. He and the elephant play chess, the owl reads him a story, and the rhino helps him wipe his runny nose.
A Sick Day for Amos McGeeis part of Children's Theatre's The Kindness Project, an effort to commission world-premieres with kindness as their central themes. Naturally, this one fit. There were no crazy plot-twists or major do-the-right-thing decisions to be made; A Sick Day is a children's story, so it's not complicated. Neither are its lessons. We all know being nice to one another other is better than being mean, that patience is better than impatience, that generosity is better than envy. Sometimes we just have to be reminded. A Sick Day for Amos McGeewas a pleasant and well-produced reminder.
A Sick Day for Amos McGeecontinues through Sunday, September 1. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.