There's a grand tradition of Chicago theaters adapting great works of literature for the stage. Redmoon Theatre's brilliant revised revival of Hunchback is one of the great reminders that the transition from page to stage can revel in flamboyant theatrical tricks.
Much is lost when paring down the mammoth novels of Victor Hugo for the stage—even if those adaptations like the musical Les Miserables go on for more than three hours. Redmoon's Hunchback runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission, but under the assured direction of Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, the entire company cleverly packs as much as they can in an inordinately creative fashion.
Hunchback is filled with many of the creative Rube Goldberg-style contraptions that we've come to expect from Redmoon: Perspective-altering puppets ( in the hand, marionette and shadow varieties originally designed by Laura Heit ) , oversized masks designed by Shoshanna Utchenik and a dazzling display of acrobatics played out on two moving-parts pylons designed by Jim Lasko and Utchenik which skeletally suggest Notre Dames' iconic bell towers.
Redmoon could have just stuck with pantomiming the story to the ear-clattering pre-recorded score. The opening chase scene between hunchback bell-ringer Quasimoto ( Jay Torrence and Alden Moore ) and lovely gypsy Esmeralda ( Katie Rose McLaughlin ) showed that the entire story could have been told without a muttered word. But what Redmoon cleverly does to acknowledge the missing swaths of text is to have actor Jeremy Sher playing author Hugo come back to life to impudently challenge some of the gross ( if extremely creative ) simplifications of the novel.
For instance, while the two puppets of lovers Esmeralda and Phoebus copulate, a sinister knife-wielding shadow puppet of villain Claude Frollo ( Samuel Taylor ) hovers in the background. At that point, Hugo demands that his character is given his proper back story to explain his lust-driven hatred.
Though the largely silent company first look upon Hugo as an annoyance, they go with the flow and find a creative Redmoon way to capitulate to the author's demands that proves to be just as entertaining as it is enlightening.
These Hugo interruptions do dissipate the linear flow of Hunchback, but they add to the quirky and creative magic that goes on in this sometimes deconstructionist look at the iconic 19th-century novel. Redmoon's approach makes you stop and think about how stories get adapted to different mediums, especially with the impressive grab bag variety of storytelling techniques that the folks of Redmoon confidently show off.
So anyone expecting a straightforward re-telling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame will be disappointed. But you're in the mood for some amazing theatrical magic that tickles the imagination, you'll find loads to admire and fall in love with in Redmoon's Hunchback.
By: Jim Lasko and Mickle Maher. At: Redmoon Theatre, 1463 W. Hubbard . Phone: 312-850-8440 ext. 112; $15-$35. Runs through: Jan. 20