Is Children's Theatre Company going to the pigs? Hot on the trotters of last season's "Babe, the Sheep Pig," another plucky porker is drawing squeals of delight from a young audience. This go-around it's "Mercy Watson to the Rescue," featuring a plump little pig on an eternal quest for hot buttered toast.
Victoria Stewart's stage adaptation perfectly captures the ebullient charm of Twin Cities author Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series about the Watson family and their beloved pig, Mercy. Indeed, with the help of Eric Van Wyk's bold, childlike set and Sonya Berlovitz' extravagantly whimsical costume designs, this production could almost have leapt off one of book illustrator Chris Van Dusen's pages.
There's not much depth here (Mercy wants toast, Mercy gets toast, by hook or by crook), but plenty of twists, turns and pratfalls as an able ensemble brings these well-known characters to life. Gerald Drake and Mo Perry are entertainingly oblivious as Mr. and Mrs. Watson, a couple so contented with their lives and their "porcine wonder" that they simply ooze infectious cheer. Wendy Lehr brings the demeanor of a diminutive martinet to the role of killjoy neighbor Eugenia Lincoln, positively bristling with self-righteous annoyance as she terrorizes her sister, Baby (Elizabeth Griffith), and browbeaten cat (Jason Ballweber).
The real standouts in this piece, however, are Sara Richardson as Mercy the pig and Reed Sigmund as her arch-nemesis, animal-control officer Francine Poulet. Displaying an impressive range of facial expression and a body seemingly made of rubber, Richardson imbues Mercy with a wide-eyed insouciance and a convincing range of oinks, grunts and squeals in a masterfully comic performance. She's well-matched by Sigmund's over-the-top Francine, who alternately simpers and blusters her way through capturing her prey.
This production runs close to two hours, but director Peter C. Brosius keeps it lively and engaging amid falling beds, flying slices of toast and a series of carefully choreographed chase sequences. Some standout scenes include Ballweber's movie star send-off as the suddenly liberated cat and a deliciously funny piece of business in which Eugenia and Baby industriously plant flowers while Mercy just as industriously roots them out and gobbles them up, all to the accompaniment of Pachelbel's Canon, punctuated by oinks and feline yowls.
Audiences seeking the depth and bittersweet poignancy of DiCamillo's young adult novels "Because of Winn Dixie" or "The Tiger Rising" won't find that here. "Mercy Watson to the Rescue" is aimed at the youngest of audiences and contains all the madcap humor and lightheartedness to completely captivate them.