No tricks, all treats: 'Harriet' another home run for SCT

I remember a particular Halloween night a very, very long time ago, during which my mother made a suggestion so outrageous as to be unthinkable.

With strong memories of living through the Great Depression filling her head, especially the way families pulled together during those hard days to keep food on the table and a roof over themselves, my mother implied that the act of reaping candy during trick-or-treating should perhaps be considered a collective good. In short, Mom had a completely nutty idea that my brother, sister and I should pool our bounty into one large, community trove of tasty sweets to be - gasp - shared.

Mom knew little about the squirrel instinct that possesses children on Halloween, i.e., that compulsion to hide one's gatherings from imagined predators of winter and ration it to oneself over months. But I understood Halloween as a celebration of individualism, and certainly Harriet, the youngster at the heart of Seattle Children's Theatre's new "Harriet's Halloween Candy," understands.

Based on the fifth book in a series by children's author and illustrator Nancy Carlson, "Harriet's Halloween Candy" (adapted for the stage by Ann Schulman) explores the consequences of an Ayn Rand approach to trick-or-treating for oneself alone.

It's not a pretty picture. But much of "Harriet's" is very funny, and it surely delighted kids of all ages (recommended for age 5 and up) at the show I attended.

Under pressure from her parents even before she starts ringing doorbells, Harriet (Liz McCarthy) is expected to split her trick-or-treat spoils with a plump and pesky younger brother, Walter (Caety Sagolan), who looks like a toddler version of Eric Cartman from "South Park." Already fed up with little Walter's whirlwind energy, gibberish and tendency to get into all her stuff, Harriet balks at having to collect candy for him, too.

But such is the price Harriet pays for making Halloween rounds, for the first time, semi-independently. That is, Harriet gets to walk the spooky streets of her neighborhood in the company of school chums, eschewing boring old adult supervision.

It doesn't take long before Harriet discovers that if she holds open her bag at someone's front door and mentions she's collecting for an absent sibling, adults will reward her altruism with entire handfuls of goodies. Soon she breaks off from pals George (Jason Collins, an SCT favorite), who is dressed as a pirate; Ed (Auston James), a wedge of cheese; Tina (Nicole Boot), ambitious if confusing as the legendary Jack's chopped beanstalk with the Giant's foot on her head; and Luanne (Sagolan again), the Queen of Everything.

On her own, Harriet gathers so much stuff she can barely carry her sack. The more she gets, the more inclined she is to keep it all to herself, going so far as to drag the bag to school, where she can hover over it.

Problem is, the other kids get mighty curious. As soon as they find out about all that candy and how Harriet isn't going to share it, well, hurt feelings arise.

As with "Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business" from last season at SCT, "Harriet's" has a simple scenario that requires filling out. Schulman and director Kathleen Collins ("The Gingerbread Man") get the job done with three or four scenes of comic action.

A motor-driven, rotating stage set (the same one used in "Junie") with several malleable sets on its outside makes it easy to take Harriet to all sorts of places, including the home of a villainous dentist (Alban Dennis, who also plays Harriet's dad and weirdo principal, Mr. Wackertacker), and the classroom of Mrs. Bellringer (Maggie Stenson, also good as Harriet's mom).

We get a little skateboarding action, some slapstick with a jump rope and comic business with a show-and-tell session. (George, who falsely claims to be lactose intolerant when it suits him, pays dearly for his fib when Ed starts scooping out ice cream during a presentation. Young ones in the audience found that especially hilarious.)

McCarthy is terrific in the lead, even better than as the titular "Junie" last spring. Her Harriet experiences all kinds of frustration during the course of the story, but McCarthy is never redundant and keeps her performance fresh and sympathetic. "Harriet's" climax finds McCarthy's character nearly raging about how difficult it has been to adjust to the reality of Walter, at the very moment Harriet was old enough to enjoy a little autonomy as an only child. No doubt a lot of children seeing the show will identify with the heroine's angst.

There's usually a "wow" moment when one walks into either theater space at SCT and one gets a first glimpse of a show's set. "Harriet's" set is typically spectacular, crowned by a wonderfully long marquee displaying the show's title in bright lights. Scenic Designer Edie Whitsett ("Frog and Toad") has outdone herself here, and I'd like to thank her for the enormous, toothy, bear-like face that happily reminded me of sundry monsters in "Yellow Submarine."

As Jerry Seinfeld's inspired monologue about Halloween (which became a great children's book) taught us, there is just something fantastically weird yet amazing about a ritual in which adults give you candy - you know, just give it to you for no reason. Knowing how to work all the angles on Halloween-the right neighborhoods to hit, keeping a steady trick-or-treat pace, etc.-while not getting warped by greed is a rite of passage for kids. Certainly it is for Harriet.

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