Trying on his costume for the first time, Adam Meredith paused for a moment in the Fresno City College theater dressing room and took a long, hard look.
“I’ve never had a tail,” he said with a grin.
Meredith has played a lot of characters in his professional career, but the rascally feline star of one of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved children’s books has never made it onto his resume – until now. As the title character in the college’s new production of “The Cat in the Hat,” opening Friday, March 3, he gets to be the ultimate “disrupter.” Mom’s gone and it’s a cold, wet day, so what does Mr. Cat do? Swoop in and create havoc.
The show is a faithful adaptation of the famed book, complete with sets and costumes that recreate the skewed, colorful world of the story. The script was developed in 2013 by the National Theatre in London, and while it’s geared toward children, there’s enough grownup humor to keep adults interested as well. For the Fresno production, director Janine Christl enlisted the help of the Fresno Dance Collective’s Amy Querin to add aerial dance moves, and there’s a lot of choreographed chaos as the Cat unleashes the full naughty potential of the moment.
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“It is definitely a physical challenge for me,” he says. “I’m not doing anything nearly as intense as the aerialists in the show, but it’s a physical production for the entire cast.”
Just keeping the tall trademark hat balanced on top of his head is a challenge in itself.
Meredith’s name is familiar to Fresno-area audiences. The 38-year-old graduated from Buchanan High School in 1996 and was an integral part of Woodward Shakespeare Festival and other local companies before going on to graduate school and a stint in Chicago. He’s been based in Los Angeles since 2014, where he does commercial work and other acting roles.
Christl is a longtime friend, and she brought him in as a guest artist and mentor for “The Cat in the Hat.” His father lives in Fresno, so it was a good opportunity for family time as well.
Meredith grew up with Dr. Seuss and had “Green Eggs and Ham” memorized, but he has two things to admit: As a kid he was a little scared, or at least put off, by the Cat, probably because the character is such a disrupter. (“Here he comes in and wrecks the house,” he says.) And, to be honest, Meredith is not much of a cat person. (Dogs, yes. Cats? Meh.)
But acting is about embracing different kinds of characters, and he has enjoyed the chance to get inside the head of a character who was never a childhood favorite.
“I think he’s a force of nature. He’s pretty overwhelming and bombastic. He’s got the best of intentions, but he’s a troublemaker, no mistake about that.”
As a trained Shakespearean actor, Meredith appreciates the use of verse. In graduate school, sometimes his classes would use the children’s author as a way to study how to convey language on stage. The material has it all: alliteration, consonance, assonance, rhyme and rhythm.
“It’s like a little gift that’s been given to me,” he says. “Now I get to do an entire show in Dr. Seuss.”
Just don’t step on his tail.