About six months after I moved to Portland, I heard about Frogz and the Imago Theatre. The descriptions I was given of the performance were intriguing to say the least and the Imago Theatre, located at that time behind the creepy Travelodge that eventually became the uber-hip Doug Fir, had a facade like something out of film noir. All of these things led me to believe that there was something amazing happening behind those bricks. Still, despite regular reminders of the mysterious Frogz, it took me six years to actually find myself at the front door of the Imago Theatre with my ticket in hand and my girlfriend Katherine in tow.

I somehow knew Katherine, with her child-like sense of wonder, would probably enjoy a show essentially created for children, but I had kept my descriptions of the show fairly sparse to heighten the surprise. Unfortunately, this had the unintentional effect of making her suspicious of attending a play that she imagined would be something like the Broadway musical Cats, but with amphibians instead of cats and no singing. She had mentioned Frogz to her co-workers in Tualatin but they had not heard of it, leading me to believe that the acclaim of Frogz is relegated to Portland and New York or that folks in Tualatin are cultural swine. Although I am generally an optimist, I suspect the latter assumption is correct. Still, you know what they say about “assume”: It makes an ass out of “u” and “me.”

So, perhaps it would have been better if I had assumed nothing about Frogz in the first place. I had assumed that the show would be shiny and slick and bright, but I was delighted to find otherwise.

The Imago Theatre is an interesting kind of space. The house and stage feel as if they were wedged into the building by a giant shoehorn. The feeling as you find your seat is more akin to walking into the tent of some odd traveling circus. Considering the homemade-looking curtains and the strange music, it didn’t feel as safe and slick as I was expecting.

I am happy to report that Imago’s Frogz, like all good children’s art, does not work to be safe. In fact, the show can be downright dark (sometimes literally) and at times almost threatening. Alligators stalk the audience, wickedly malicious orbs swear at you in alien tongues and rip the program from your hands, a cowboy suffers through heat and storm only to find a bad end, and faceless sloth creatures wave uneasily from the stage. But this is the way life is for children, isn’t it? Equal parts danger and excitement with some wonder and glee mixed in. There is a reason why Mother Goose and Grimm, for all their brutality, are re-told again and again.

This is not to say that Frogz is brutal. Far from it! In fact, Imago’s Frogz only tends to dip a stray toe into the darkness, just to ensure that you don’t get too comfortable with your world. And they do it with what I can only call a unique form of full-body puppetry that not only suspends your disbelief, but twirls it around a few times before tossing it out the window. In fact, when the performers reveal themselves as the ones who have been behind the frogs and the penguins and the floating shirts, it is almost a disappointment to acknowledge that yes, it was always our imagination that let us be frightened by a person in an alligator suit.

I wish I had seen Frogz sooner and now that I’ve experienced it, I plan on returning every year as the show is regularly updated with new creatures and bits. It’s a show that, like Mother Goose and Grimm, will be a timeless work of art that will delight us and challenge our imaginations for years to come.