In the world of the dazzling "Corduroy," "button" is like "aloha": It can mean many things.
It's practically the only word said by the title character, a teddy bear who lives in a department store and is missing a button on his green corduroy overalls. But Dean Holt, who was astonishingly expressive as the title character five years ago and is even better now, can make that word mean "Where is my button?" or "Aha, there it is," "I need a friend," "I like you" and "trash can" (actually, when he sticks his head in the trash can, creating an echo, he dubs the trash can a "button-utton-utton").
There are so many variations that "Corduroy" makes you wonder why we bother with other words.
Based on the picture books by Don Freeman, "Corduroy" re-teams Holt with playwright Barry Kornhauser, who also wrote the thrilling silent-film-inspired "Reeling." In that one, Holt channeled the deadpan spirit of Buster Keaton but "Corduroy" finds him in Charlie Chaplin mode.
There's plenty of physical comedy — one highlight finds Corduroy certain that the boingy, elasticized button on a mattress in the furniture department is his missing part — and he reacts with delight, fear, concern and love. The fear, especially, makes sense since the nimble actor often seems to be one wrong foot away from disaster, as when he scales a tippy mountain of toilet paper rolls.
Holt is so good — and, in a more antic mode, so is Autumn Ness as the put-upon security guard slowly drawn mad by the messes Corduroy blithely creates — that we miss them when they're not onstage.
Nothing against young Ayla Porter as Lisa or Alexcia Thompson as her mom, but their child/parent dynamic, while relatable, just isn't as entertaining as the madcap shenanigans back at the department store, where Lisa began to covet the button-deprived bear.
Director Peter C. Brosius wrings big laughs out of the Corduroy vignettes, also making inventive use of Luciana Mayer and Hugo Mullaney as a fast-moving pair of mannequins who are our wordless guides from one department in the store to the next.
In a ploy that would make picket fence-painting Tom Sawyer proud, they even con a few young audience members into helping clean up during intermission.
If there's one issue with "Corduroy," it is that intermission. It's necessary because there's a big mess onstage that has to be cleaned up, but the extended break on opening night seriously disrupted the momentum of a show that otherwise never let up. The production probably will tighten up that intermission during the run.
Fortunately, the show gets back in the groove quickly, heading toward an ending that Corduroy might say is bright as a button.
Who: By Barry Kornhauser, based on the book by Don Freeman. Directed by Peter C. Brosius.
When: 7 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sat., 2 and 5 p.m. Sun. Ends April 2.
Where: Children's Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $15-$64, 612-874-0400 or childrenstheatre.org.