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THEATER REVIEW The Rose and the Rime
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2009-03-04

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Playwright: Nathan Allen, Chris

Mathews and Jake Minton

At: The House Theatre of Chicago

at the Chopin, 1543 W. Division

Phone: 773-251-2195; $25-$29

Runs through: April 11

The coats had barely stopped dripping from the torrential early spring downpour outside before audiences at Rose And The Rime were engulfed in a swirling blizzard. Fortunately, the thick clouds of frozen precipitation inside the Chopin were only the white tissue confetti of the kind usually showered on wedding couples, and the onset of the latter meteorological disturbance, an illusion conjured by playwrights Nathan Allen, Chris Mathews and Jake Minton—a storytelling team on which we can rely to deliver a happy ending. Can't we?

The fable recounted by The House Theatre of Chicago will inevitably be compared to last season's runaway hit, The Sparrow. But while this latest project from one of our city's most creative artistic ensembles once again features the charismatic Carolyn Defrin as a small-town girl turned heroic fairy-tale princess, the moral conveyed by her quest to rescue her home and neighbors from the eternal winter imposed on them by the cruel Rime-Witch is darker in its illustration of the fate awaiting those who don't heed the teachings of history. If Sparrow was a parable of resurrection—redemption following on tragedy—Rose and Rime is a caveat on its inverse possibilities.

Before we are confronted with our grim lesson, however, we are permitted full measure of the carefree theatrical fun we have come to expect from The House: a seductively wicked sorceress with icy kabuki-length talons. Cuddly puppet-bunnies scampering through fluffy white drifts. Alpine acrobatics incorporating front-row spectators to represent rocky cliff faces. A quasi-Volga Boatman dirge based in the scrape of snow-shovels, and a gentle minuet played by a chamber orchestra of bottle-whistles. A shriveled forest sighing in chill winds, and a beach frolic where boardwalk red-hots are distributed to hungry-looking playgoers. Joy, courage, envy and violence, all translated into kinetic spectacle by the power of our imaginations.

So does this production signal The House's readiness to fly its Chicago nest before settling into complacency ( like certain other promising young companies now legendary only in their own collective regard ) ? Theater scholars following the career of this ensemble from their auspicious debut in 2001 might say yes, but Rose And The Rime still hints at tricks up the House sleeves—or rabbits in the hats, if you like—to amaze and excite the most jaded hometown crowds. And that buys a lot of welcome in these regions.


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