Final Week of great shows: Dog and Pony, Redmoon, ATC

Time Is Running Out!

by Venus Zarris

One of the most amazing and disheartening aspects of live theater is the immediacy of the experience. No two shows, of the same production, are ever alike and so every performance is a once in a lifetime opportunity. That being said, plays are shooting stars in the grand scheme of things.  You either see them or they are gone forever, unlike film that you can catch on DVD and watch over and over again.

Chicago makes this urgency even more demanding as there is so much exceptional work being produced but the many gifted companies. With this in mind there are a few shows in particular that extra efforts should be made to catch before they are no longer an option.

“Boneyard Prayer” – This breathtakingly bleak examination of sorrow and regret told through Redmoon’s unparalleled conceptualization. Their brilliant offering is spellbinding and creates a uniquely poignant and emotional journey.

(“Boneyard Prayer” runs through May 25 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St. 312-850-8440 x111.)

“As Told By the Vivian Girls” – This unique production plunges you into the strange and absurd world of underground artist Henry Darger. It creates a funhouse experience as you walk through Theater on The Lake exploring selected aspects of his work, taken from his 1500 page manuscript and various paintings and illustrations, brought to life by actors rendering his fantastical characters and creatures. Dog and Pony Theater Company ambitiously creates a remarkable living-breathing homage to Darger’s bizarre and brilliant imaginary realms.

(“As Told By The Vivian Girls” runs through May 25 at Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton. 773-360-7933.)

Speech and Debate – Playwright Stephen Karam creates a brilliantly funny joy ride in this show about three misfit high school kids dealing with their sexual secrets while trying to start a speech team and gay/straight student alliance. Karam has written one of the funniest roles for a young woman ever penned and Sadieh Rafai’s performance of this character is a laugh riot that is sure to delight!

(“Speech and Debate” runs through May 31 at American Theater Company, 1909 West Byron St. 773-929-1031.)

Run, don’t walk, to catch any or all of these incredible ‘NOT TO BE MISSED’ productions while you still have the chance!

Review – “Boneyard Prayer” at Redmoon Theatre

Redmoon’s “Boneyard Prayer”

reviewed by Venus Zarris

Redmoon Theatre's triumphant "Boneyard Prayer"Once again setting the standard for the reinvention of theatrical thought, Redmoon’s ‘Bonyard Prayer’ is a triumph of imagination and creativity. If you have already experienced Redmoon’s work than you understand that when you visit them you are in for at least the unconventional and at best, which is normally the case, the extraordinary. ‘Boneyard Prayer’ certainly fits under both of these classifications.

It traces the cycles of regret through the upheaval of a man’s grave by five gravediggers. Through this remarkable hallucination of somber reflection we see the tragedy of a mistake’s impact on the lives of those it effects.

This is, to say the least, a dirty show. And I don’t mean X-rated, rather 641 pounds of soil are employed to create the burial site. Working with puppets on a multi leveled stage the breathtakingly bleak word of a graveyard is rendered with fantastical effect. The gravediggers dig, sing and animate the puppetry, be that actual or the shadow variety, to tell this sad story.

Charles Kim’s musical composition sounds like a Tom Wait’s homage, the perfect musical soundtrack for this austere dream. It is wonderfully performed by Rob Cruz, playing a piano that sounds like an old barroom upright that hasn’t had a tuning since The Great Depression and has been the recipient of more than one bottle of beer. This tawdry sound only adds to the forlorn wanderings on this purgatorial trip to the root of personal demise.

Not the ‘feel good show’ of the season, you would be well advised to bare the topic in mind. The play opens with a melancholy lullaby sung to an infant who is then placed back in his grave. The night that I attended the play a pregnant woman in the front row who was quickly moved to tears and then left the theater.

I add that not as much as a cautionary note but to illustrate to emotional depth and power of this sorrowfully poignant masterpiece.

Theater can do so much more than simply entertain. It can stretch our mind to process and encompass all aspect of the human condition thereby broadening our emotional vocabulary and our abilities to understand and empathize with others and with ourselves.

This is a lovely examination of the distressing side of our reality. All of the technical and creative elements coalesce flawlessly to deliver a haunting experience that will linger with you long after you leave the theater. This heart rendering and gorgeous production is well worth the emotional investment and should not be missed.

Rating: «««½

 (“Boneyard Prayer” runs through May 25 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St. 312-850-8440 x111 – www.redmoon.org)