A really 'pig' show
Positive, silly improv for kids at 'Hogwash'

This review was originally published in April, 2007 

What do you get when you throw together quick-thinking actors, a live band, an audience packed with shouting kids and a guy off to the side making props on the fly? You get an afternoon of entertainment that's original, funny and fast-moving enough even for preschoolers.

Hogwash -- An Improvised Tall Tale, which began its second run on March 3, 2007 [Editor's note: and its third run on Sept. 22, 2007] at the Historic University Theater in Seattle, is a kid-friendly introduction to the art of improvisational theater. Children invent the characters, choose goofy names, pick out costumes and make wild plot suggestions, while the narrator encourages the audience to sing, shout, boo and do whatever else seems right at the moment.

Kids get the hang of this type of silly fun right away, and so do the grownups sitting next to them.

The show is made up of two 30-minute segments, each featuring makeshift props and costumes, and (often off-key) songs sung by the cast. The band, called the Hamstrings, improvises music on keyboard, guitar and drums; all other details are up for grabs. The shabby-funky theater is a good setting for the show, which feels as enthusiastic and pleasingly rough around the edges as something put together by counselors at summer camp.

On opening day, the first segment followed the exploits of a pair of good scuba divers, named Canock and I Forgot, in their search for a magic rock. As the skit began, the prop guy (Nick Edwards) created goggles and scuba gear out of cardboard and ran them up on stage to the actors. The sneaky Captain and his mate, Smitty, stole a rock detector to find the magic rock for themselves. The audience waved its arms and booed as the Captain and Smitty searched for the rock, which a child in the audience was keeping "very safe."

Meanwhile, Canock and I Forgot visited a "magical mermaid bird person" who promised to help them find the rock, which can grant wishes. There was a lot of running up and down the aisles to shouted hints about the rock's location. The narrator asked the audience what their wishes would be, and a boy called out that he'd wish for the bad guys to become good guys. Adults in the audience laughed loudly when Smitty (Stephanie Thompson), during "his" transformation to a good guy, took off "his" hat and gasped, "I'm actually a girl!" The Captain (Scott Baxter) pulled off his long black wig, ran his hand over the short hair underneath and shot back, "And I actually have a really preppy haircut!"

The cast gamely handled the plot's hairpin turns, often making jokes for the adults while crafting a positive message for the kids. Actors accepted kids' directions with respect and a sense of humor. As the narrator, Jon Axel was enthusiastic and energetic, with a self-assured wit. He did a nice job of moving the show along without making kids feel rushed when he called on them.

You won't find anything like Hogwash anywhere else in the Seattle area. Young children will discover that there's more to theater than passive observation, and because the show changes weekly, you can come back more than once and see something new each time.


Hogwash plays Saturdays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 17, 2007

Tickets for adults are $10, children $8 (ages 3 and older)

Historic University Theater
5510 University Way N.E., Seattle

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