The Legend of Pufferfish Pat: A Tall Tale For Mad Times at InterAct Story Theatre

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Well good gravy! Shoot! Ain’t it just about time you headed on down to Gravy Gulch for this year’s annual “Great Gravy Cook-off and Fashion Festival”? It’s going to be a rootin’ tootin’ good time, if Pufferfish Pat don’t lose his temper and blow up the whole town! Of course, that’ll make Ma Murchison, the Mayor of Gravy Gulch, all upset too! But I think us cowpokes are getting ahead of ourselves here! You’re in for one exciting wild west adventure, but you might need some important details first— like the who, what, and where! It’s InterAct Story Theatre, back in residence at the Cultural Arts Center of the Montgomery College Campus for their annual children’s theatre production. This year they’re presenting a brand new tale by the company’s current Artistic Director, Ali Oliver-Krueger: The Legend of Pufferfish Pat: A Tall Tale for Mad Times. And it’s a hoot! It’s a heartfelt learning lesson too. In this exciting wild west adventure, children of all ages and those young at heart will learn strategies for handling their feelings of anger and frustration as well as the importance of keeping your cool in stressful situations. It’s a great theatrical experience with a great lesson wrapped up in imaginative characters, silly stories, and the best part of all— YOU, the audience, are actively involved!

Kelsey Yudice (left) as Pufferfish Pat, Elle Marie Sullivan (center) as One-Eyed Jack, and Alex Miletich IV (right) as Cookie
Kelsey Yudice (left) as Pufferfish Pat, Elle Marie Sullivan (center) as One-Eyed Jack, and Alex Miletich IV (right) as Cookie InterAct Story Theatre

Ali Oliver-Krueger places the show in the old wild west, where Lemonade Parlors dominate the main street of Gravy Gulch. Set Designer Peter Oliver-Krueger adds simplistic and portable set pieces to entice the audiences’ imaginations into pretending that we’re really in the fictional town of Gravy Gulch! Oliver-Krueger’s most ingenious piece of work isn’t the covered wagon, which folds up and spins around to be one of the storefronts on main street, or even his collapsible campfire. It’s the bright green cactus tubers that flank both sides of the stage, reminding cowpokes that the wild west is really a desert!

Complimenting Oliver-Krueger’s fine set work, Costume Designers Rachel Frederick and Andrea Schewe create a marvelous set of outfits for the three performers, allowing them to play over half a dozen different characters throughout the show, once again encouraging the audience members to really engage their imaginations, inviting them into the world of the play. Frederick and Schewe’s finest achievement is that patriotic Betsy Ross style dress for Ma Murchison, complete with an outrageously stylish hat! The brightly colored jacket on the Zaba “Brothers” are also pretty impressive and both Frederick and Schewe capture the iconic look of a Sheriff and Outlaw when it comes to more simple wild west-style costumes.

Ali Oliver-Krueger’s play is smart, simply put. It teaches a lesson without feeling preachy or pedantic, and it is easily accessible to kids of all ages, even relevant to adults! The words and descriptions that Oliver-Krueger uses to accurately express what it feels like to have an anger attack are vivid and extremely relatable. Oliver-Krueger expresses the importance of anger being a normal human emotion and the fact that it can be healthy to feel it while acknowledging the fact that there are healthy ways in which it can be expressed. She manages to do this in a fashion that is accessible to young audiences without feeling too childish and it makes the story full of heart and great learning opportunities.

In addition to the lesson she’s laid into the play, Oliver-Krueger has done an exceptional job of wrangling up her wild western stereotypes, fitting them into the archetype of a tall tale. There’s a liberal spoonful of all sorts of southern slang, done up tastefully like a fancy sip of Sweet Sally Sue Sarsparilla’s lemonade! Her characters are innovative, and beyond just the archetypes of a tall tale, in addition to being humorous and clever. Stressing the importance of gender diversity and equality in her production, Oliver-Kruger acknowledges early on that there are cowboys, cowgirls, and cowpokes! Using gender-blind casting, she augments the fact that anger is a non-gendered issue, anyone of any gender can feel, experience, and have trouble managing their anger, and by employing gender-blind casting and gender-blind approaches to roles in this show, it makes the lesson and valuable learning tools universally accessible to everyone watching.

Elle Marie Sullivan (left) as Tony Zaba, Alex Miletich IV (center) as Cookie and Kelsey Yudice (right) as Larry Zaba
Elle Marie Sullivan (left) as Tony Zaba, Alex Miletich IV (center) as Cookie and Kelsey Yudice (right) as Larry Zaba InterAct Story Theatre

Leading the trio of actors through a fun, engaging and enthusiastic hour of interactive children’s theatre, Oliver-Krueger imports the most important message of all to the audience over every step of the fun, theatrical journey: using your imagination is a great way to have fun! Whether it’s with the sing-a-long Gravy Gulch song that the audience is invited to sing, or the participation of making sound effects to be actively engaged, there are wonderful opportunities for the younger members of the audience to be reminded that they are part of the most important facet of the show!

Yeehaw and golly! Jumpin’ juniper too! There’s a mighty fine trio of actors putting all they’ve got into these crazy characters to ensure everyone has a good time in Gravy Gulch! Alex Miletich IV, Kelsey Yudice, and Elle Marie Sullivan are the perfect union of performers for young audiences, knowing how to express larger than life characters in zany and intriguing ways that captivate the attention of younger audience members while not seeming too goofy or outrageous for older audience members. With each performer playing two roles (and Sullivan playing three) we get to see these actors really put their chops to the test with quick changes, both in costume and in character, be it voice, physicality, or just overall mood!

Sullivan, who plays Sweet Sally Sue Sarsparilla, Tony Zaba of the Zaba “Brothers” Circus & Wild West Show, and One-Eyed Jack, has her work cut out for her! Talking all sweet like as Sally Sue, Sullivan delivers the show’s healthy dose of manners in this character, and reminds folks of the role kindness can play in handling anger and temper. As One-Eyed Jack, however, she’s a real rattlin’ agitator like a proper outlawed antagonist, crawling under Pufferfish Pat’s skin like a real sneaky snake, especially when it comes to the showdown!

Kelsey Yudice (left) as Pufferfish Pat, Alex Miletich IV (center) as Cookie, and Elle Marie Sullivan (right) as One-Eyed Jack
Kelsey Yudice (left) as Pufferfish Pat, Alex Miletich IV (center) as Cookie, and Elle Marie Sullivan (right) as One-Eyed Jack InterAct Story Theatre

Kelsey Yudice, playing the titular character, does an excellent job of handling all the anger that comes along with Pufferfish Pat. Exploding, erupting, and going out of control before the character learns how to handle and express their emotions, Yudice is a vivid and engaging performer that really understands children’s theatre. So too is Alex Miletich IV, playing both Cookie— the old chuck wagon cook— and Ma Murchison, the first ever female town mayor. Miletich handles this gender-blind casting with reverence, making the character’s humorous nature about her persona and not because he’s a man in a silly-looking dress. Having the best handle on the wild west vernacular in his characterization of Cookie, Miletich works as a narrative figure during the performance as well, to keep the audience getting along, you know.

So get on down to Gravy Gulch because you know you’ve got a hankering for gravy, and you won’t want to miss all the fun and silly things happening at the “Great Gravy Cook-off and Fashion Show!” There’s even really cool kid-friendly activities happening in the lobby before the show!

Running Time: Approximately 55 minutes with no intermission

The Legend of Pufferfish Pat: A Tall Tale for Mad Times plays through September 23, 2017 at InterAct Story Theatre— currently in Theatre II of the Cultural Arts Center on the Montgomery College Campus located at 7995 Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.

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