For the first in-person production of their 2021–22 season, Imagination Stage is showing Corduroy in its East Coast premiere. The adorable children’s play was adapted by Barry Kornhauser from the two books Corduroy and A Pocket for Corduroy written by Don Freeman in 1968 and 1978.
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer, along with Scenic Designer Daniel Pinha, has created a beautiful setting of a large department store, complete with a functioning escalator simulation and various appliances that seem to run on their own.
Corduroy, played by Alex Vernon, is a lonely teddy bear in green overalls who captures the heart of young passerby, Lisa (Ariana Caldwell). She longs to take the bear home, but her Mother (Jasmine Brooks) is too stressed and busy, adding that the bear is missing a button and isn’t worth the money. The disheartened Lisa reluctantly leaves empty-handed, but not before rushing to the bear and whispering something into his ear.
I should clarify that Corduroy is actually a magical bear that looks like your regular, run-of-the-mill stuffed animal when in the company of humans. But then he comes to life as soon as he’s alone and the transitions are quite cleverly devised.
Speaking of humans, the unfortunate Night Watchman, played by Matthew Pauli, is on duty once the store closes and takes his job very seriously. And, as one would imagine, having a magical bear on the loose is a recipe for disaster.
Corduroy, who has language limited to the words “friend” and “button,” decides that he needs to find his lost button and sets out to look for it. Vernon does a delightful job portraying the adventurous bear, using great facial animation and intonation to convey much more than his two-word vocabulary would normally allow.
As Corduroy finds different buttons throughout the department stores (think of the many appliance and furniture buttons out there), he leaves a path of wreckage behind him. The Night Watchman, believing there is an intruder in the mall, determines to catch the criminal.
Pauli is extremely funny as the guard, and his slapstick-y antics had the kids laughing anytime he was on stage. He gets splashed with paint, burns his pants on a stovetop, slips and falls too many times to count, and is chased by a vacuum cleaner, whose bag expands to epic proportions after running all night.
While these shenanigans are going on, over in the home of Lisa and her Mother, another sort of disaster is underway. Lisa’s Mother has agreed to let her earn enough to buy Corduroy herself by doing extra chores around the house. But unfortunately, Lisa is as clumsy as she is eager. And while her Mother tries to keep her cool, as her little girl clogs her sink, shrinks her favorite sweater, kills her prized plant, and breaks the trash can (leaving garbage all over the newly cleaned floor), it is apparent that Lisa is wrecking her chances of acquiring the extra money.
Brooks and Caldwell interact together very naturally, and their loving relationship feels honest. Caldwell effuses such innocence and genuine remorse that it appears natural that Lisa never gets into real trouble, and Brooks masters the motherly art of internally losing her mind while acknowledging that her daughter’s unfortunate mistakes are entirely blameless.
The whole production was well done and the kids in the audience were obviously and audibly enjoying themselves. I was seated next to two youngsters who kept shouting warnings to the poor Watchman and then cackling at his mishaps.
The overall message of the show encourages love, family, and patience for adults and children alike. A little girl who has to earn a prize for herself, and a mother who teaches her the value of effort and honesty.
Corduroy is a fun adventure, making for a nice outing for families with young children. Congrats to the creative team for making the “magic” look real. Imagination Stage’s light-hearted production brings laughter to feed the soul and inspire young minds.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Best for ages 3 to 9.
COVID Safety: Ticket holders ages 12 and older must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination and, for ages 18 and older, photo ID for all performances. (Starting with P.Nokio performances in February 2022, those ages 5 to 11 will be included in this vaccination policy.) Imagination Stage’s complete COVID safety measures are here.
Based on the Corduroy and A Pocket for Corduroy books by Don Freeman
Licensed by CBS Consumer Products
Adapted for the Stage by Barry Kornhauser
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
Cast: Jasmine Brooks (Mother), Ariana Caldwell (Lisa), Matthew Pauli (Night Watchman), Alex Vernon (Corduroy), Edmée Marie Faal (Understudy for Mother/Lisa), Jon Kevin Lazarus (Understudy for Corduroy/Night Watchman)
Creative Team: Daniel Pinha (Scenic Designer), Frank Labovitz (Costume Designer), J. Mitchell Cronin (Lighting Designer), Justin Schmitz (Sound Designer), Sarah Tundermann (Projections Designer), Mark Jaster (Movement Coordinator), Kate Kilbane (Production Stage Manager), Matthew Pauli (Props Consultant), Stella Pugliesi (Assistant Scenic Designer), Alex Vernon (Movement Assistant), Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Design Advisor), Katie Moshier (Deck Captain), Olivia Viola (Covid Safety Manager/Wardrobe Crew), Laura Sperling (Production Manager), John Elder (Technical Director), Bethany Regalbuto (Master Electrician), Anna Klinger (Costume Shop Manager), Ren Brault (Assistant Technical Director), Danielle Harris (Scenic Charge Artist)
Imagination Stage begins in-person season with safety paramount (season announcement)