Children's Theatre Company's "Bartholmew Cubbins" evokes childhood (and adult) cool
|This design isn't as spikily abstract as Dr. Seuss . . . by the show at CTC is|
The entire growing-up process from youth to adulthood (and hopefully beyond) can be marked by the discovery of art and culture that seems to be so perfect, so cool, that its discovery is akin to finding something sacred, artifacts from some realm of perfection. I had any numbers of markers along that road: the Velvet Underground, Joseph Brodsky, Martin Amis, The Invisibles. In time, each of them cooled from white-hot to something more comfortable, perhaps manageable. I can return to them almost in a spirit of remembrance, knowing that once they shook and assailed me.
Before all that, though, there was Dr. Seuss. I was a huge reader from an early age (go figure), coming home with stacks of books from the library with tick-tock regularity. But the ones I owned, because I asked for and received them as Christmas presents, were the Seuss: The Sleep Book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, Yertle the Turtle. This was the shit: visually kinky, twisting the language into rhythmic curlicues, and always infused with a difficult-to-pin-down sense of subversion. There was little discernable morality in these stories, other than basic goodness and a driving, constant sense of the weird.
And while I can't say that I really outgrew Seuss, other things came along, and pretty soon he was sort of filed away under a recurring psychedelic tendency that has characterized an aspect of my life. He couldn't have been terribly far from my thoughts, though, since I bought a copy of The Sleep Book as a make-up gift for my eventual wife after she decided (temporarily) that I was not the guy for her.
So it was with a distinct full-circle pleasure that I took one of my children to see Dr. Seuss' The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins at Children's Theatre Company last week. It's a spirited, visually demented, full-of-tricks show, rife with humor and Seussian spirals. It's done very well, and is massively entertaining.
And one of its sweetest scenes takes place in a dungeon, where our protagonist (a young boy) has been sent to be beheaded by a masked executioner. Somehow, in context, it all makes sense.
Because it's Seuss. It's the shit. It's cool. It's all about conventions, and rules, and how stupid they are when you're a kid and could fill your days with amazement if everyone would just leave you alone. I've never been one to tip my cap to power for its own sake and, I realized the other night, I probably first absorbed the idea from Seuss. So, in its way, Bartholomew Cubbins might be provoking the next generation of dissenters. It will be sheer poetry if that turns out to be the case.