A small band of children, ranging in age from 1 year to about 8, tromps through the woods of Mercer Island's Rotary Park on a damp but mutedly brilliant fall weekend morning. They stop periodically to study the earth, look for bright leaves and commune with strange creatures of the forest: a candy sorceress, two elfin men dressed in foliage, and a shy woman who might — or might not be — a Halloween witch.
This witch is the Holy Grail of their woodsy quest: They are looking for her because she took Halloween off the calendar and turned all the candy into something very unappetizing, and she is the only one who can restore the spooky holiday. Is this her?
Clues come one by one. Instead of a pointy black hat and broomstick, this might-be witch is sporting yoga pants and hip glasses. But yet ... there is a witch hat next to her. And there is a child dressed in black who may have been a black cat at some point. With the help of a purple-cloaked narrator, the kids in the group problem solve: How can they convince the errant witch to give up yoga in favor of spells, specifically the spell that would bring back Halloween?
Welcome to The Witch in Which Wood?, a gentle, totally non-scary, interactive theater experience in the woods designed for young children by Youth Theatre Northwest. My 6-year-old son and I joined a group last Saturday for the half-hour walking show. The woods were lovely, the leaf-clad narrator — who set the kids up on their mission at the start — was engaging, and the encounters with forest creatures were entertaining and unexpected. Jokes are threaded throughout, from the expected-but-funny pretend confusion between "which" and "witch" to laughs about current events (such as the Seahawks).
Note that Mercer Island-based Youth Theatre Northwest does an outdoor Halloween show every year. Usually, there is a scarier production for older kids and adults as well as an "unscary" show for the littles. This year, the scary production is on hiatus and The Witch in Which Wood? is the sole production.
YTN recommends the show for ages 3 to 8; I would say the sweet spot is for ages 3 to 6, though older kids will enjoy it, especially with younger siblings, and 2-year-olds would find it fun, too. My newly-minted kindergartener fancied himself a bit too grown-up at the beginning — "It's all made up, Mom," he said — but he was drawn in nonetheless.
If you go ...
When: The Witch in Which Wood? has its final weekend of shows on Saturday, Oct. 24, 10 a.m.–3 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 25, 1–3 p.m., with several 30-minute shows each day.
Where: Rotary Park, Mercer Island
Cost: $10/child; adults and babes in arms free. Buy online.
More to do on Mercer Island: Rotary Park, where the play is held, is small but enoyable, with a few hills for kids to run up and down. Across the street is the adorable Mercer Island library, with stumps and statues for kids to play on. A short drive away, check out awesome Deane's Children's Park, a.k.a. Dragon Park.