The many wonders of theatre


By Marilyn Delk


To say that Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall was abuzz on Sunday, April 21would be an understatement; joyful excitement filled the auditorium as an amazing array of versatile performers took the stage—and most of the performers had four legs! “Mutts Gone Nuts” is, obviously, a dog show, and almost everyone loves dogs—as evidenced by the fact that the show has been sold out for months. If you were one of the lucky ones who got tickets to this last presentation of Darke County Center for the Arts Family Theatre Series, you are probably still gasping in delight as you remember the amazing show.

The “mutts,” (and all of the canine performers had been rescued mutts without impressive pedigrees) live with and were trained by comedy duo Scott and Joan Houghten, who had performed their unique blend of physical comedy and circus arts to audiences around the world before turning their attention to creating a dog act, or two other dog trainers who add their talents to the mix, Bonnie Scott and Jess Wellmans. The dogs sometimes sleep in their owners’ beds, and travel in large, padded, climate controlled kennels when on tour. Additionally, the assembled audience was entertained by a self-described “skinny German juggle boy” named Hilby, a charming comedian who impressively juggles while maintaining a very funny line of patter.

This mix of vaudeville and circus tricks brought to mind the iconic Ed Sullivan Show, where opera singers, concert pianists, puppets, acrobats, and animal acts entertained millions of Americans on CBS every Sunday night for an amazing 23 years, creating a shared camaraderie and leaving a lasting impression of joy and wonder among audience members of all ages. But this 2023-2024 Family Theatre Series closer was not the only presentation having that positive effect on its audience.

The season opened on Sunday, October 29, with Lightwire Theater’s updated “electroluminscent” version of the Aesop fable The Adventures of Tortoise and Hare. Utilizing amazing glow-in-the-dark effects and set ten years following the fabled race when smart phones and video games have created a brand new landscape, Tortoise Jr. and Little Hareengage in a different kind of race which leads them into unexpected territory. Old Man Tortoise and Big Daddy Hare must come together despite their differences to find and save their children, overcoming unique hurdles to successfully make it to the finish line. The poignant storytelling was enhanced by the creative use of delightful music, creating a magical experience for all concerned.

Then on Sunday, February 18, Tutti frutti and York Theatre Royal, a small children’s theatre company based in Leeds, England which has earned an excellent international reputation for producing first class children’s theatre and is known for its strong storytelling, brought their enchanting version of a second classic fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, to St. Clair Memorial Hall. In this telling, a boy named Silas lives in a village that revolves around sheep, from shepherding the animals in the fields to spinning and knitting the wool they provide. The gifted ensemble of actor/musicians played several instruments and inhabited multiple characters in this warm, funny and engaging show which explores the perils of sending false alarms while also honoring the wisdom of bravely speaking the truth.

These diverse presentations wonderfully fulfilled the mission of DCCA’s Family Theatre Series, bringing first-class productions to local audiences at a low, low ticket price (just $5). Without traveling long distances, children, their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends were charmed, amused, moved, and entertained by talented international artists doing what they were born to do, bringing the many wonders of theatre to captivate local citizens, providing a shining example of the joys provided by the arts during DCCA’s Sapphire Celebration season.

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