Playwright: created by the Silent Theatre Company. At: Silent Theatre Company at The Storefront, 66 E. Randolph. Phone: 312-742-8497; $20. Runs through: Dec. 20
People who travel with circuses and carnivals often testify to it being a pleasant lifestyle, enhanced by loving families, supportive friends and other social comforts long considered the exclusive province of ground-gripping tribes. You won't find such views expressed in literary fiction, however, where such nomadic communities are uniformly fraught with cruelty, perversion and grotesque horrors. You know, sort of like Fairy Tales.
This latest fable from the Silent Theatre Company tells the storywe know it's a story, because the book recounting it is rarely out of sightof a sparrow-like waif, cast off by neglectful parents, who falls in with a band of itinerant players. Little does she know that this touring show is under a curse, invoked by its ringmaster after an accident resulting in the death of his beloved wife. As the newcomer learns more about the source of her fellow entertainers' suffering, she comes to see a remedy for their oppressionbut breaking malevolent spells, as we all know, calls for sacrifice.
In keeping with the Silent Theatre aesthetic, the action is mimed to musical accompaniment, alleviated by occasional snippets of appropriately scratchy spoken narrative issuing forth from a Victorola-vintage gramophone. But if the ambiguity engendered by this abstract mode of presentation makes for a certain fuzziness in our comprehension of the plot's finer pointsthe range of magical powers exercised by a briefcase-toting hunchbacked elf, for exampleit nevertheless facilitates an endless stream of exquisite images, among which are graceful silk-rope acrobatics by a pair of E.T.A. Hoffmann-esque aerialists, a blind gypsy's premonition revealed in trick-photo video footage, and an attack by a berserk tiger ( fortunately de-clawed ) on an unwary audience member.
Though undeniably dark in tone, the romantic gloom is mitigated by the disarming presence of a carnival barker/storyteller, played by the always charismatic Marvin Eduardo Quijada. The four-piece orchestra dispensing kletzmer-tinged melodies ( with a pre-show score eerily reminiscent of Maestro Subgum and the Whole ) likewise provides aural respite from the visual/kinetic spectacle. While far from the palatial glamour of the Loop's more traditional holiday family-events, Carnival Nocturne offers enchantment commensurate with Nutcrackers and Carols at a fraction of the admission cost, while clocking in at a brisk 90 minutes. And nary a fa-la-la or a ho-ho-ho to be heard.