It's easy to make fun of entertainment for toddlers. We've all heard Samuel L. Jackson or Betty White read the audio version of that potty-mouthed bestseller (you know the one) about a kid who's reluctant to go to sleep. As for Goodnight Moon, that 1947 classic on the same topic, it's been parodied everywhere from Animaniacs to Mad magazine to McSweeney's. Julia Yu's clever Goodnight Dune puts little Fremen to bed on the desert planet Arrakis. Even I got into the game, with a horror movie mashup trailer you can see on my blog, ChristianCarvajal.com. We hail from a century in which our most lovable icons are ridiculed without mercy or shame.
Even so, as I took my seat for Olympia Family Theater's production of Goodnight Moon, the Great Green Room was already sneaking past my snarky defenses to the sweet nougat center within. I'm not saying it was an Anton Ego moment; I didn't reminisce about my childhood long enough to enjoy a plate of ratatouille. Goodnight Moon wasn't even in my preschool library. I was more into Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary, and, if Mom had anything to say about it, Dune. But Goodnight Moon is so affectionate and lovely, so perfect in every possible way that it was like seeing the world through more innocent eyes.
An old theater maxim says there's no such thing as a perfect show. That's true enough. Someone will always stammer a line, miss a note, or slide out of a follow spot. But this cast, the most experienced and top-to-bottom gifted in OFT history, covers minor mistakes with such winning aplomb that they vanish before our very eyes. Given the entire roster of quality Olympia actors, I can't think of a role I'd cast differently.
Goodnight Deane Shellman, who directed a masterpiece her first time at OFT. Goodnight Jill Carter, whose set and props recreate or expand on Clement Hurd's detail-rich illustrations. Goodnight Stephanie Claire, whose band is so charming even Bunny can't resist their Slavic lullaby. Goodnight puppets like Clarabelle the Cow, a trio of bears, and two curious kittens.
Goodnight cast: Mark Alford makes Bunny a winning audience surrogate. Kate Ayers says "hush" with a mixture of impatient authority and maternal kindness. Ingrid Pharris-Goebel is adorable as Mouse and a true Dish; Amaya Eckel animates Bunny's room with pizzazz. Kim Holm makes a boisterous bear with a memorable catchphrase (an addition to the script), and her husband Russ pilfers the show in his mimed performance as Mr. Nobody, the unseen culprit of messy household disasters. Why a mime? Because kids are afraid of clowns. It's we who fear mimes, but that's on us.
This show is in fact aimed squarely at toddlers and their parents, who'll cherish it. It's exactly the right length, opportunities to squirm and make noise are built in, and such childhood anxieties as bedtime, loose teeth, and sharing are addressed. Grown-up readers may be wondering if there's anything in it for them. I don't know-do you like perfect things? Goodnight Moon isn't merely an excellent OFT show, it's the best show that company has ever staged. I say again: perfect.
[Olympia Family Theater, Goodnight Moon, $9-16, 7 p.m. Thurs.-Fri., 1 p.m. Sat.-Sun. through June 3, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.753.8586]