Martin Denton’s review of WILD THING March 27, 2003
Wild Thing, the new family show from The New Acting Company, embodies the best kind of children’s theatre. It’s not so long that the youngsters get bored and start to fidget, nor is it so simple-minded and watered-down that the adults get bored and start to fidget. Instead, it’s a play with a message that everybody can learn from, told in a stylish and clever way so that everybody can enjoy it. The story centers around Max, a dad who hasn’t quite grown up himself. He’d rather play games with his two children than fold the laundry or remind them to do their homework. This understandably gets him into trouble with his wife; but he’s surprised when it also places him on the radar of the Monsters who live Where the Wild Things Are. Usually these scary creatures show up in the human world to frighten children into behaving. This time, however, a pack of them arrive in Max’s bedroom—to learn how to be even more “wild,” they say, but also to teach Max important lessons about responsibility and leadership.
Most of the play takes place on the island where the Monsters live. Playwright Monica Flory and director Gregg Bellon do an outstanding job creating a believable yet strange world for these weird, fuzzy, childlike creatures to live in. With nods to children’s author Maurice Sendak (and, going back to antecedents, L. Frank Baum), Wild Thing gives us a wonderland of the imagination where everybody is ultimately good and everybody is able to learn something useful in the course of a single, eventful night. As I said, the show’s attitude deftly avoids both cloying ingenuousness and smart-alecky self-reference; the pacing is brisk, the writing is earnest, and the staging is savvy and sophisticated. The ensemble of nine actors do terrific work, especially Stephen Michael Rondel, who is on stage virtually non-stop as Max. Kudos to The New Acting Company, who are affiliated with the Children’s Aid Society and produce their work in a charming little theatre located inside that organization’s building in Greenwich Village. The fifty or so kids who were at the performance reviewed, mostly in the 5-10 age range I’d guess, seemed to have a fine time at Wild Thing, which is the best recommendation of all.