Goodnight Moon – Theatre Review: Childsplay, Tempe Center for the Arts, Tempe

Goodnight new poster

When an adult has trouble falling asleep, if it’s not a health issue then there’s probably something troubling happening. When a child can’t fall asleep, it’s anyone’s guess. In the enchanting new Childsplay comedy Goodnight Moon, based on the hugely popular bedtime read of practically every American’s childhood, we get see what’s keeping Bunny awake when he should be asleep. In this story it involves cows attempting a jump over the moon, a bedside light and a red balloon, bears with chairs, kittens with mittens, clocks and socks, and just about anything else that happens to be lying around in the little green room.

Based on a new script from actor, composer and playwright, Chad Henry, in order to present this new production, you’ll notice a few modifications at Tempe Center for the Arts Studio. When you enter it’s like wandering into a child’s magical, dream world grotto. Stars hang from above throughout the auditorium; the stage is flattened to floor level so that children can sit cross-legged in front of the set as if they’re a part of it, while the set itself is akin to seeing pages from the book recreated to something tangible before you.

Goodnight 3

Brown’s book didn’t really have a story. It was more a nighttime ritual of a little bunny tucked comfortably in his bed in the little green room as he said goodnight to all the objects around him. The effect of quietly whispering farewell for the evening as the sun set and the moon rose lulled the bunny to sleep, ending with the peaceful lines of “Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.” If you read each page to your child with a calming emphasis, lowering your voice and slowing your pace to a practical crawl, by the time you arrived at the final page, all felt right with the world.

In this wonderfully creative and occasionally very funny telling of Brown’s book, Bunny (Michael Thompson) is supposed to be in bed asleep, but he’s continually distracted. The red balloon by the bed is too much fun to play with, especially when it floats around the little green room, seemingly with a mind of its own. Then there’s the playful lamp that nods its shade from side to side, the ticking clock that does a dance on the fireplace mantel, the telephone that insists it doesn’t do wrong numbers, the dolls house that lights up with someone or something inside, and the Tooth Fairy (Tommy Strawser) who comes complete with a top hat and cane, a red bow tie and a soft-shoe shuffle. It’s Pee-Wee’s Playhouse but without the manic chaos, just the fun and especially the charm.

Goodnight 1

The cast is made of four very talented players. Thompson’s Bunny, who excels in displaying a wonderfully childlike exuberance for everything, is supported by Chanel Bragg as his mother, described as the Old Lady, the dish that runaway with the spoon and one of the bears with a chair; Tommy Strawser as the all singing, all dancing Tooth Fairy – yes, here the fairy is a he and his name is Lawrence, but you can call him Larry – and the continually engaging Michelle Chin whose cat with the fiddle is a genuine highlight of the production. Fortunately for us, it’s a character that returns to the room several times. And if you’ve ever wondered what the man in the moon looks like, he comes with glasses and a beard, and he’s keeping on eye on all of us at night.

Chad Henry’s script also delights in a couple of running gags, one including the mystery of who lives inside the little dollhouse and the several attempts of Clarabelle the cow trying to jump over the moon. The songs are simple but fun, accompanied by music director Alan Ruch’s piano, Molly Lajoie’s choreography incorporating tap along with that soft-shoe shuffle is as gentle and as pleasant as a production of this nature requires, plus Holly Windingstad’s scenic design is a practical facsimile of the little green room as illustrated with those flat but standout colors of the book. Open the pages to agents for illustrators rendering of Bunny’s bedroom and you’ll see, Holly’s set is Hurd’s imagination made manifest.

Goodnight poster

Those with a child, or perhaps those whose parents read to them when they were little, must know Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s picture book. On a personal note: as a parent who continually read the wonderfully illustrated story to his child each evening around 7, it got to the point where the whole thing could be recited from memory. And believe me, because of the calming nature of its simple rhymes, it worked every time.  After seeing Childsplay’s production, you might even start including some objects around your child’s bedroom as you read each night, ones that emotionally connect, though choose those toys wisely.  As we discovered, saying goodnight to Darth Vader didn’t always have the desired effect.

Pictures courtesy of Tim Trumble

For more including times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the official Childsplay website

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