‘Mouse on the Move’ at Imagination Stage by Lauren Katz

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Typically when I review a show, I bring a friend whose feet reach the ground while sitting in the audience. However, for this particular performance, I decided to take a different route. When I attended Imagination Stage’s production of Mouse on the Move, aimed for ages one through five, I brought my two-year-old sister, and for the first time ever, I witnessed her sit still for a full hour. She was entranced throughout the entire performance and watching the show through her eyes made for an incredible experience.

Mouse on the Move tells the story of two mice, Amelia Mouse (Jenny Donovan) and Nellie Mouse (Ayanna Hardy), and their quest to travel to the moon for an endless supply of cheese. The story was simple, but cleverly used colorful props and small set pieces to entice the children. My sister was immediately hooked when she noticed Amelia and Nellie’s beautiful costumes consisting of ruffles and different shades of gray and brown.

(L to R:) Jasmin Danielle Johnson (Amelia) and Julia Krebs Patterson (Nellie) in Imagination Stage’s January 2012 production of ‘Mouse on the Move.’ Photo by Blake Echols.
(L to R:) Jasmin Danielle Johnson (Amelia) and Julia Krebs Patterson (Nellie) in Imagination Stage’s January 2012 production of ‘Mouse on the Move.’ Photo by Blake Echols.

When we walked into the Christopher and Dana Reeve Studio Theater, we were immediately drawn into the action. Ushers with mouse ears and the actors themselves brought us over to a large circular rug that acted as the stage. We were all asked to sit on a “button” on the rug, and not only did this create an interesting “theater-in-the-round” sensation, but by eliminating the barrier between the audience and actors, the kids could feel more involved with the story. The actors, or mice, handed out suitcases to the children full of items that would help move the story forward, such as a bell and a scarf. At numerous points throughout the play, kids were asked to use one of the items in their suitcase to help the mice complete their journey, which served as a fantastic method to keep the kids active in a helpful manner. For example, whenever the children noticed the moon appear on stage, they were asked to ring their bells in order to get the attention of the mice.

The audience participation however did not stop there. The actors often used the audience participation as a way to subtly teach important lessons as well. One of my favorite moments was when Amelia and Nellie made their way outside and entered a forest. Huge flowers were brought out, and each child was asked to hold one. When there were not quite enough flowers for each child in the audience, Donovan and Hardy asked the remaining children to lift their arms and act as the grass swaying in the wind. Even when they ran out of real set pieces, all of the children were still provided with an opportunity to create the setting together, which helped draw them into the magical world. Judging by my sister’s huge smile and laughter, created a fun way for the children to move around while still aiding the story.

The interesting part for me however, was the method in which the actors collected the flowers. The asked questions like “Where is blue?”, and the child with the blue flower would hand it over. Typically, there were pairs of matching flowers and when the actor obtained both of them, she would say “Same,” which taught a lesson of color. At the end of the collection, the actors were left with one blue flower, and one orange flower. Rather than having the color lesson stop there, they collected both flowers, and said “different,” but in the same excited tone of voice as they had used for  “same” earlier. Though subtle, the use of tone helped convey the message that it is perfectly acceptable to be different, and you can still help build in a story in a positive manner.

Most parents know that forcing a child to sit still for an extended period of time can only lead to negative consequences. Imagination Stage foresaw this, and provided outlets. In addition to small movements, such as creating the grass and flowers swaying in the wind, the children were also asked to come on the stage at multiple points throughout the production. For example, when it began to snow on the stage, the children were asked to get up and play in the snow with the actors. My sister had a blast, and her smile only grew when the adults in the audience were all handed “snow balls” to toss at the playing children. All of the kids seemed to adore having a snow ball fight with their parents, and after the brief break for activity, they were all ready to settle back into their seats, and see what amazing stage of the journey came next.

The clever use of props at times impressed me at numerous points throughout the play. The actors reused certain props at different points to create large set pieces. For example, when we were officially introduced to Amelia and Nellie, they were sleeping under a flower printed blanket. However, during their journey, that blanket turned into a scarf used in a snowstorm, and even became the wings of an airplane that the mice built in order to reach the moon.

The language was simple and at times a little silly, which is expected for a show made for young children. Donovan and Hardy performed beautifully. Donovan’s excited and curious character played off Hardy’s shy but fun character brilliantly. They both worked together to keep the children engaged throughout the entire production, but their amusement and passion for the play kept adults like me interested as well. They successfully drew us into the magical world of the play, and made me believe their desperation to reach the moon because of their intense hunger for cheese.

Mouse on the Move was a blast from start to finish. Typically an uproar of applause at the end of a performances provides proof of success, but I would say my sister’s silence for a full hour creates a similar form of evidence. If you are looking for a fun-filled morning take the kids and make your way over to Imagination Stage.

Running Time: One hour, with no intermission.

Mouse on the Move plays every weekend in July at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue in Bethesda, MD. For more information and tickets, please go online.