Arts & Culture

Olympia Family Theater’s production of ‘Go, Dog! Go!’ is a treat

Photo from left: Christine Goode as Red Dog, Korja Giles as Blue Dog, Rynelle Bircher as Yellow Dog, Xander Layden as MC Dog, Megan Rosenberg as Green Dog.
Photo from left: Christine Goode as Red Dog, Korja Giles as Blue Dog, Rynelle Bircher as Yellow Dog, Xander Layden as MC Dog, Megan Rosenberg as Green Dog. Courtesy

Olympia Family Theater is a local treasure that is little known outside of Olympia but should be.

Families from around the region should be driving to Olympia with their children to see their wonderfully delightful performances. OFT is adult professional actors performing mostly children’s theater. They sometimes branch out to present important works geared to adults.

Whatever they produce, it is always of the highest professional value and enjoyed by people of all ages.

OFT’s latest production is a delightful concoction called “Go, Dog. Go!” based on the children’s book by P.D. Eastman and adapted for the stage by Steven Dietz and Allison Gregory.

Unlike any children’s theater I have ever seen, “Go, Dog. Go!” is by no means a traditional play. In directions to producers, Dietz and Gregory say, “It is not our intention to ‘fill out’ or ‘open up’ the story in the style of many traditional adaptations. ‘Expanding the book’ in this way would, we believe, rob it of its essential wondrous and loopy anarchy. Instead, we hope to celebrate and explore the existing words and pictures; to look not ‘outside the book,’ but more closely ‘within it’ – in the way that a child can page through Mr. Eastman’s book night after night and find something remarkable and new with each subsequent reading.”

The play is presented as a series of scenes with wondrous music written by Michael Koerner and arranged by musical director Daven Tillinghast, with loopy dog characters with names like MC Dog (Xander Layden), Hattie (Heather R. Christopher), Red Dog (Christine Goode) and Blue Dog (Korja Giles).

MC Dog is so named because he’s the master of ceremonies, Hattie because she perpetuates the running joke — “Do you like my hat?” — which MC never likes. In scene after scene, the dogs howl at the moon, snorkel, dance, ride a Ferris wheel, climb trees, drive cars and roller skate — all to Koerner’s and Tillinghast’s quirky music.

Hidden within the hijinks like the liquid or creamy surprise at the core of hard candy are life lessons about loyalty, devotion and joy. The acting by the nine-person cast is joyful, exuberant and expressive. There is a special character and liveliness to the music that, like the play itself, is totally unexpected and non-traditional.

“It comes with a 110-page score, which is pretty substantial for a 50-page script consisting largely of stage directions,” Tillinghast says. “It’s originally written for solo accordion accompaniment. But, as I like to joke, we couldn’t afford an accordion; we could barely afford no accordion! (Apologies to accordionists, it’s a fine instrument).”

As a musical director, Tillinghast likes to work with live bands but decided recorded backing tracks worked best for this production.

“The publisher, Plays for Young Audiences, does offer tracks, but they are very simple arrangements and didn’t capture the excitement that director Deane Shellman and I wanted to generate,” Tillinghast said. “I love what the playwrights call the ‘zany anarchy’ of the book, and the physical elements of the staging really feel almost more like clowning than proper theater.”

The play really thrives on the interplay of absurdism and just plain fun. As a special treat, OFT is holding pre-play parties starting an hour before Saturday matinees May 17 and 25, with refreshments and opportunities for kids to make party hats and take pictures with characters from the show.

“Go, Dog. Go!”

When: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through June 2.

Where: Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $15-$20

Information: https://olyft.org/ or 360-570-1638

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