Based on a series of books written in the 1940s and ’50s, “Piggle Wiggle” is an episodic journey. We get precious little background on Mrs. P herself, except that she views each child’s misbehavior as a sickness and seems to have devised the perfect cure for each one. During the play, about a half-dozen of these sicknesses (e.g., fighter quarrelitis, answer backer disease, etc.) are diagnosed and then magically cured. These vignettes are only vaguely held together by a whiff of a plot involving a search for treasure inside Mrs. P.’s multilevel upside-down house (nicely appointed by scenic designer Jennifer Lupton).
Under Richard Koch’s innovative direction, the play effectively entertains the youngsters by bringing to life images just hinted at in the books. A reluctant dishwasher is confronted by an evil witch who demands a spotless kitchen. A daydreamer conjures up daring adventures complete with perilous pirate encounters and man-eating clams.
But the production also works for adults by giving parental fantasies equal time in a couple of frothy musical numbers. Mommies in bathrobes bemoan their tribulations in a rousing “What’s a Mother to Do?” Five finger-snapping fathers clad in black suits and dark glasses detail their extravagantly tough childhoods in which, for instance, they had to walk 10 miles to school, uphill both ways.
These scenes are lively, campy good fun, and credit must be given to musical director Amy Hruska, who has blended the varying vocal talents of the cast superbly. In fact, the music is almost incongruously good in places, such as when the back-talking Evelyn (Audra Honaker) harmonizes her taunt of “I know you are but what am I?” with a squawking parrot. But who’s going to complain about too much of a good thing?
The heart of the production is provided by Jacqueline Jones as the unflappable Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. With an unwavering smile and tireless exuberance, Jones seems to be made for this role. As Jones plays her, Mrs. P. has little patience for clueless parents and nothing but time for the ragamuffins that show up at her doorstep.
The rest of the cast members play multiple roles, often having to switch from a child to an adult character from one scene to the next. Some of the actors imbued their 8-year-old characters with the lisping immaturity of a 4-year-old, but in general, everyone does a fine job. Charles Wissinger is a particular standout: His antic energy makes the daydreamer interlude the biggest laugh generator of the show.
There was some seat-squirming going on among the pre-kindergarteners by the time the play reached the two-hour mark (with intermission). But for the most part, “Piggle Wiggle” is an engaging, energetic romp full of valuable (if improbable) lessons for misbehaving children everywhere — and the parents that put up with them. STheatre IV’s “The Magic Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” runs at the Empire Theatre through Feb. 22 from Wednesday to Sunday at various times. Tickets cost $18 and can be purchased by calling 344-8040.
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