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  WINDY CITY TIMES

The Elephant and the Whale
THEATER REVIEW
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2013-04-17

This article shared 2099 times since Wed Apr 17, 2013
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Playwright: Frank Maugeri (concept),

Seth Bockley (writer),

Kevin O'Donnell (music)

At: Chicago Children's Theatre in

association with Redmoon, Ruth Page

Center, 1016 N. Dearborn St.

Tickets: 1-872-222-9555;

www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org; $20-$36

Runs through: May 26

Windy City Times does not often review productions for family audiences, although there's a great deal of such theater in town from specialized troupes such as Emerald City Theatre Company and Adventure Stage Chicago to establishment troupes such as the Chicago Shakespeare, Marriott and Drury Lane theaters which offer programs suitable for grade school kids. We recognize, however, that many readers (perhaps an increasing number) are parents of young children. Besides, it's good to reconnect with one's inner child from time to time, especially through a unique world premiere.

Despite her size, Ella the Elephant can tap-dance, sing and walk the tightrope, all of which have made her the star of the Hoobeck Family Circus, a one-ring operation touring out of Arkansas in the early 1900's. When the Hoobecks fold their tent, Ella is sold to Quigley, an exploitive acquatic showman who bores Ella to tears and keeps her caged. Ella's one friend is a nameless whale who also endures Quigley's claustrophobic confinement. Together, Ella and the whale sing remarkable duets, rendered in this production with ethereal music for voice and saw by Kevin O'Donnell, with a smidgen of real whale song mixed in. When Ella escapes, she also engineers the whale's escape who, like Nemo, maneuvers from tank to river to the ocean and freedom.

With a cast of four narrating, playing the human roles and voicing "leviathan and behemoth" (as Quigley promotes them), this one-hour tale is told musically and visually as much as by its words (in irregular rhymed verse). The Redmoon contributions come in the rich visual techniques of which Redmoon cohorts are masters: shadow puppetry, rod puppets, projections, miniature (so-called "toy") theater elements and several Seussian devices such as an odd array of loud speakers and a bicycle built for four which powers a lengthy visual scroll. As conceived and co-directed (with Leslie B. Danzig) by Redmoon co-artistic director Frank Maugeri, The Elephant and the Whale is a visually clever and good-looking show in which the directness of the storyline camouflages the precision and complexities of the technology. Many of the shadow projections (by Liviu Passare), for example, are video animation sequences designed to mesh perfectly with the shadow projections of live performers.

For all that, this is a show for kids/family audiences which childless adult viewers and older adolescents are apt to find amusing but hardly challenging. I'd say the best age range would be 4-14. Tickets for the May 4 show at 11 a.m. are available only for children with autism and their families in a first-ever performance experiment. Indeed, with its strong visual stimuli, music and rhythmic rhymes, The Elephant and the Whale already possesses elements to which many autistic children respond.

The Elephant

and the Whale

Playwright: Frank Maugeri (concept),

Seth Bockley (writer),

Kevin O'Donnell (music)

At: Chicago Children's Theatre in

association with Redmoon, Ruth Page

Center, 1016 N. Dearborn St.

Tickets: 1-872-222-9555;

www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org; $20-$36

Runs through: May 26

BY JONATHAN ABARBANEL

Windy City Times does not often review productions for family audiences, although there's a great deal of such theater in town from specialized troupes such as Emerald City Theatre Company and Adventure Stage Chicago to establishment troupes such as the Chicago Shakespeare, Marriott and Drury Lane theaters which offer programs suitable for grade school kids. We recognize, however, that many readers (perhaps an increasing number) are parents of young children. Besides, it's good to reconnect with one's inner child from time to time, especially through a unique world premiere.

Despite her size, Ella the Elephant can tap-dance, sing and walk the tightrope, all of which have made her the star of the Hoobeck Family Circus, a one-ring operation touring out of Arkansas in the early 1900's. When the Hoobecks fold their tent, Ella is sold to Quigley, an exploitive acquatic showman who bores Ella to tears and keeps her caged. Ella's one friend is a nameless whale who also endures Quigley's claustrophobic confinement. Together, Ella and the whale sing remarkable duets, rendered in this production with ethereal music for voice and saw by Kevin O'Donnell, with a smidgen of real whale song mixed in. When Ella escapes, she also engineers the whale's escape who, like Nemo, maneuvers from tank to river to the ocean and freedom.

With a cast of four narrating, playing the human roles and voicing "leviathan and behemoth" (as Quigley promotes them), this one-hour tale is told musically and visually as much as by its words (in irregular rhymed verse). The Redmoon contributions come in the rich visual techniques of which Redmoon cohorts are masters: shadow puppetry, rod puppets, projections, miniature (so-called "toy") theater elements and several Seussian devices such as an odd array of loud speakers and a bicycle built for four which powers a lengthy visual scroll. As conceived and co-directed (with Leslie B. Danzig) by Redmoon co-artistic director Frank Maugeri, The Elephant and the Whale is a visually clever and good-looking show in which the directness of the storyline camouflages the precision and complexities of the technology. Many of the shadow projections (by Liviu Passare), for example, are video animation sequences designed to mesh perfectly with the shadow projections of live performers.

For all that, this is a show for kids/family audiences which childless adult viewers and older adolescents are apt to find amusing but hardly challenging. I'd say the best age range would be 4-14. Tickets for the May 4 show at 11 a.m. are available only for children with autism and their families in a first-ever performance experiment. Indeed, with its strong visual stimuli, music and rhythmic rhymes, The Elephant and the Whale already possesses elements to which many autistic children respond.


This article shared 2099 times since Wed Apr 17, 2013
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