While one or two jokes and references may be over children's heads, the action in Arthur Mintz's puppet theater adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox takes place underground — in a wonderfully imagined and cleverly constructed cardboard catacomb filling the third floor of the Contemporary Arts Center. The audience literally walks into the pages of the book to the first scene, where they learn that Mr. Fox is no longer fast enough to outrun the farmers from whom he steals chickens and apple cider to feed his family. The audience then slides down a foxhole into Mr. Fox's living room (there is alternative walking access throughout the adventure for the less hardy and adult-sized viewers), where they watch Fox News (and video of reporter Flea Zurik on location). The farmers want to catch Mr. Fox or drive him away for good.
The audience joins the world of underground creatures and follows Mr. Fox as he runs from a hound, eludes farmers digging up the ground and faces other dilemmas. In the labyrinth, each tunnel leads to another room and scene. An ensemble of puppeteers works several marionette and puppet versions of Mr. Fox, whose voice is provided by New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Mintz handles a large share of the puppetry and brings great enthusiasm to the show.
Children will love crawling through the tunnels, and there are several fun interactive scenes. Mr. Fox is a likeable hero, and the narrator Bryan Spitzfaden works hard to involve the audience in the story. There are good surprises throughout, including video segments and clever props such as a huge shovel plunging into one room. There are a few asides about pop culture and Mr. Fox's middle age that youngsters may not catch. But it's a rare treat to see a children's story enacted with such a lavishly kid-friendly set and scheme. — Will Coviello
Fantastic Mr. Fox
5 p.m. & 7 p.m. Fri.; 1 p.m., 5 p.m. & 7 p.m. Sat.; 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. Sun.; ongoing
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 481-5545; www.hi-yah.org
Tickets $15 general admission, $12 CAC members