Child's Plays

Traditionally, the long, droopy days of summer are when theaters go dark -- at least for adults. Children's plays, on the other hand, start happening in a big way during these free-at-last months. And if you have some antsy-pants little ones stuck at home, you're probably looking hard for a diversion that's more intellectually stimulating than another run to the mall, and cooler than an afternoon at the neighborhood pool. With that in mind, here's a rundown of some of what's happening for kids at Houston's theaters.

Feet, at Main Street Theater, is all about sibling love, monsters and, well, feet. Bostich is an eight-year-old boy with a difficult older sister and a big imagination. In the privacy of his own little room, he creates some terrific secret friends. Ms. Lamp, a worldly sort of light fixture, watches out for Bostich just as she watched out for his mom, way back when she was at college. She gives good sagacious advice, unlike Charles Chair, a wimpy scaredy cat who constantly lands Bostich in the worst sort of trouble.

The story takes place in summer, just before school starts. When Bostich fights with his sister Mary Ellen (who tells him his soon-to-be teacher is so mean he won't ever see recess again), his frazzled mom steps in and orders him to clean up his room and go straight to bed. That's when things get spooky. In the middle of the night, a creepy green light rises up from under Bostich's bed, and someone starts chanting, "Feet, feet, feet." Bostich makes a deal with the devil, so to speak, trading his feet for freedom from school, then his sister's feet for his own feet (Charles Chair should keep his big mouth shut). When the foot monster appears in all his six and a half feet of Dr. Seuss-goofy splendor, Bostich finally does what's right. (Feet runs through July 24 at Main Street Theater at Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose, 524-6706. Call for reservations; some shows are already booked.)

During July, Express Theatre will bring the Children's Hilltop Theatre Festival to the Miller Outdoor Theatre (a perfect runabout for restless little ones), taking kids and their imaginations from a small Mexican village to a snowy Russian landscape. The Three Lessons of Tierra Madre, based on a folk tale from the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, is a story about tolerance. When an unusual woman appears one day in a little town, bringing on a series of strange and frightening events, the citizens learn that being different isn't always bad. The production El Caballito of Seven Colors comes from the Caribbean. This folk tale, involving a couple who promise their first-born to a wizard in exchange for food, tells how courage can overcome even the worst sort of circumstances; that first-born, Juan, grows up and frees himself from the wizard's clutches. In the musical Star Child, the daughter of the Queen of Stars comes to earth to learn what real beauty is. She arrives in India with three treasures -- wisdom, kindness and beauty, but manages to lose the two most important ones somewhere along the way. It's not until she's turned into an ugly duckling that she figures out what's really valuable in this world. Finally, Tatyana's Golden Doe, a Russian tale of a young girl's courage in the face of hard times, closes the series. (The Three Lessons of Tierra Madre plays at 11 a.m. July 11; El Caballito of Seven Colors, 11 a.m. July 12; Star Child, 11 a.m. July 18; Tatyana's Golden Doe, 11 a.m. July 19. All at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Hermann Park. For information, call 759-1314. Free.)

Upcoming Events

King Midas and the Golden Touch, put together by Bill and Tek's Excellent Theatre and presented at the Country Playhouse, revives the old story about the greedy king who gets his wish: Everything he touches turns to gold -- including his beloved daughter. Director Big Skinny Brown has added his own sort of magic to the story: Magic tricks and illusion abound, so kids can watch things turn to gold right before their wide eyes. (King Midas plays at 11 a.m. July 11, 18, 25 and August 1. At the Country Playhouse, Town and Country Village, 975-1881.)

Stages' Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp is told by a dark-haired Scheherazade dressed in golden beads and glistening pearls. Expect a lot from that costume: Stages uses its regular-season production staff to create both lights and costumes for its summer kids' shows. Another plus: Aladdin's best friend comes in the form of a wisecracking camel. (Aladdin plays at 11:30 a.m. July 9 and 10 and July 14 through 17; 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. July 11 and 18, at Stages Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 52-STAGE.)

In August, The Velveteen Rabbit will come to the Ensemble Theatre, which transforms the lovely children's story into a musical, complete with blues, rap and tap. The performers, ages seven to 17, are drawn from the summer theater school and will have had a hand in every part of the production -- even helping to make the costumes. Big, bright jack-in-the-boxes, fiery red trucks and tap-dancing toy soldiers fill the stage. The "real" rabbits -- the ones who pooh-pooh our velveteen hero when he claims that he's real too -- dress like Bugs Bunny gone hip-hop, with baggy pants and floppy furry feet complete with taps on the bottom. (The Velveteen Rabbit plays 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. August 6 and 7, at the Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 520-0055.)

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