by Amber Gallery · August 17, 2014
As an only child growing up pre-internet and cell phones, I had a slew of imaginary friends. While this is what inspired me to see the Igloo Collective’s Cookie Ireland has a Giraffe, written and directed by co-founder Joe DeStefano, it was far from what I expected. In this case, this was the best possible theatergoing scenario. I left Teatro SEA thinking deeply about relationships, compatibility, imagination, and the danger of playing God.
Cookie Ireland has a Giraffe ambitiously takes place over the course of 100 years. It is a world where children have been found to be using only 1/3 of their potential imaginations because of video games, social media and the like. A determined young man named Mervin (wonderfully played by Justin Pietropaolo) starts a business called Imaginex, which recruits misguided and damaged adults to become the imaginary friends of children. In return, they become immortal and will never grow old. They are programmed only to be seen by the children to whom they are assigned. The story centers around the relationship of Cookie Ireland and her imaginary friend Ben over the course of Cookie’s life.
Joe DeStefano gives us a story that is well-structured and full of food for thought. His writing is sharp and intelligent. But the play’s fatal flaw is that it presents so many fascinating characters and situations that a two-hour play is not nearly enough to give all the elements their due. What makes a child compatible with his or her imaginary friend according to a corporation? Is the compatibility the very thing that can cause a destructive and dysfunctional situation? And can the relationship work at all when it is actually arranged by a third party?
It is a happy problem that DeStefano left me wanting more, but there was a twinge of dissatisfaction at being sold short on seeing him not explore these questions more fully. The issues raised by Imaginex’s mission statement alone were enough for more than one play. I could see this being an episodic tale, like a television series, where we really get to live with the characters and watch Cookie and the other children grow in real time.
DeStefano is fortunate to have a cast where every single actor is solid and well suited to their roles. The young Erin Dilorio played the child and teenage Cookie with a technical skill beyond her years, and Michael Striano as Ben, her imaginary giraffe friend, beautifully handled all the moments of a relationship full of complexity and pitfalls. Every single other actor was delightful and talented (most handling more than one role).
There was lovely use of simple cubes and columns painted with puffy white clouds and night sky designs, but the scene changes were too lengthy and most times unnecessary for such a simple set. It would have been a good opportunity to show pictures of Cookie and her friends as they grow up or snapshots of Mervin’s rising success to fill in the epic time period covered. Despite this, it is a well done production and I would recommend taking this ride with Igloo Collective. But I am far more excited about the next step DeStefano takes with this play – one that is full of potential.