Stage & Dance

Review: 'Cows Don't Fly' at Lexington Children's Theatre

Clenton Hollinger, left, Stephanie Radford and Joshua Gilyard star in Cows Don't Fly and other known facts.
Clenton Hollinger, left, Stephanie Radford and Joshua Gilyard star in Cows Don't Fly and other known facts.

Mrs. Rosemary's farm is a place where any ordinary day could yield extraordinary things — a flying cow, a pig who drives a car or a goose who befriends a baby elephant.

Mrs. Rosemary's farm is not unlike Lexington Children's Theatre, whose latest production, Cows Don't Fly and other known facts, offers youngsters another installment of extraordinary on an ordinary Sunday afternoon.

Adapted from three books by local author and illustrator Paul Brett Johnson, the production is an imaginative treat, with sharp acting and audience participation leading kids on a journey of farm fun.

The four-person casts uses the narration of Johnson's Appalachian dialect with surprising fluency, lending a regional musicality to the tale. What's more, Eric Abele's Velcro costumes make for lighting-fast character changes, letting the ensemble easily play two or more characters without missing a beat in the flow of the story.

One by one, Mrs. Rosemary's farm animals take a notion to do crazy things that defy "known facts." Her cow Gertrude starts flying, and it takes all of Mrs. Rosemary's mountain ingenuity and reverse animal psychology to get her to return to ordinary cowdom. The same goes for George the Pig and Magnolia the Goose.

While talking these animals down from their antics forms a central part of the show's message to be yourself, it wasn't so much the latent meaning of the show as it was the high octane, colorful performances by the cast and the storytelling methods that had youngsters in opening-day audiences squealing with laughter. Director Bradford Forehand, an LCT directing/ performing journeyman, seems to have learned one of LCT's most time-tested storytelling tricks — condoned pandemonium.

The youngsters could hardly contain themselves when Joshua Gilyard was "flying" through the theater as Gertrude the Cow. He flapped his arms, did the macarena, the moonwalk, and generally flaunted Gertude's defiance as he zig-zagged through the theater. Clenton Hollinger received a similar response when his character, George the Pig, took Mrs. Rosemary's car for a joy ride down Highway 80, careening wildly through the aisles.

This was playing at its finest. Little did the children know that there was meaning beneath all this choreographed mayhem.

The mayhem did not work in only one scene, when Mrs. Rosemary has a colorful dream about her goose Magnolia running off to join the circus. A bevy of circus animal puppets appear around her, wildly reenacting the dream. Maybe you need to be 5 years old, but there was so much activity around her that I had a hard time knowing what was really happening in the dream.

As the only actor not to play a double role, Rosanna Hurt is a warm, wise and clever Mrs. Rosemary, a fitting tribute to the resilient mountain woman who might be anyone's granny.

Hurt is also the only character who spoke in discernible English, and a colorful mountain variety at that. When not ripping off their Velcro costumes and narrating the story, the other actors mooed, oinked and honked their dialogue as naturally as if they were speaking. Some of the adults might have strained to understand, but judging by their reactions, the children in the audience are fluent in all manner of animal talk.

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