Review: ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show’ at Imagination Stage

Shadow puppets, sock puppets, masked performances, large scale festival puppets, and marionettes appear in cultures around the world. Enduring over the centuries, puppetry is an art, in multiple forms, that continues to entertain and celebrate. It’s all so simple. An inanimate object is in a skilled hand. A gesture, movement or expression brings the creature to life. A stunning transformation sparks delight and communicates ideas, giving a shape and voice to a character that wields a story.

L-R: Daniel Glen Westbrook, Emily Whitworth, and Alex Turner in The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.
L-R: Daniel Glen Westbrook, Emily Whitworth, and Alex Turner in The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Elements of puppetry are found even in the simple act of reading aloud to a child. A caregiver animates the story’s characters with vocal tones and facial expressions, and a bond of communication takes place. Imagination Stage takes the exchange of information one step further in their production The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, which delightfully brings to the stage Eric Carle’s children’s books Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Lonely Firefly, 10 Little Rubber Ducks and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Directed by Rafael Untalan, with Artistic Production by Kathryn Chase Bryer, The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show features 70 larger-than-life puppets that lovingly recreate Eric Carle’s books and illustrations.

Three-dimensional puppets seem to interact with the onstage actors, rather than be controlled by them. Movement/Puppetry Director Alex Vernon has done a wonderful job of melding actor with puppet to arrive at the ripe territory of the suspension of disbelief, the sacrifice of logic for the sake of enjoyment. The audience eagerly goes along for the ride believing in the loping big brown bear, the swooping fireflies, or the lifelike leaping dog.   The cast of actors, Emily Whitworth, Alex Turner, and Daniel Glenn Westbrook, are masterful in giving substance to each puppet’s movement, all the while narrating the stories with the audience in tow. There are numerous places for the audience to participate by responding out loud, or to be very up close with a puppet plummeting overhead as actors move through the aisles.

Scenic Designer April Joy (Vester) Bastian has created a set with overlapping panels, a playground for colorful projections and for brisk entrances and exits that highlight the puppet, actor, and story elements. Neat windows open and close revealing a puppet, and become a focal point for size and scale. Sound Design by Robert Pike augments the emotion, and Lighting Design by Jason Arnold shifts mood and location.

What a gift it is to behold these stories, to see them leap off the page, and to be reminded to look, listen and think about the characters, journeys, and trips to be taken, all within the realm of imagination.

Running Time: 45 minutes with no intermission.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show plays through Oct 27, 2019, at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814. For tickets, call 301-280-1660 or go online.


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