Playwright: conceived by Nathan Allen, 'words' by Chris Mathews and Jake Minton
At: The House Theatre of Chicago at the Viaduct, 3111 N. Western
Phone: 773-251-2195; $10-$22
Runs through: Feb. 24
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
Carrie wasn't the only one, you know. Wherever there are children, especially teenagers, physics and psychology will cross paths in uncanny ways. The literary conventions of Stephen King's modern-day gothic horror story required nature to destroy its monster, but Nathan Allen and his co-authors, Chris Mathews and Jake Minton, take a more compassionate view of the adolescent 'outsider' to forge a parable of trial and redemption.
Our protagonist is Emily Book, who returns to her rural hometown as is the only survivor of a school bus accident 10 years earlier. Her peers in the high school are prepared to welcome her as the sole member of their senior class, especially after it becomes evident that the shy girl is endowed with supernatural powers—levitating through the air to rescue a cheerleader undone by a hazardous stunt, for example, or disrupting biology class by reanimating the dissection specimens for a Las Vegas-style song-and-dance extravaganza. But soon, suspicion arises over her possible role in the tragic deaths still mourned by parents in the community.
How does an extraordinary mortal atone for childhood crimes committed in ignorance? How, for that matter, do ordinary human beings with everyday abilities repair the less spectacular, but still palpable, damages that they unwittingly inflict upon others? Having found wisdom during her exile, Emily utilizes her gift to heal those vulnerable to error—whether foolish, dangerous or even fatal—and, in doing so, illustrates to her comrades the proper employment of the forgiveness that they all possess.
Clocking in at a tidy two hours, The Sparrow's text represents a narrative efficiency hitherto ignored by the House Theatre of Chicago ( HTC ) , who until now seemed unconcerned with any but their own amusement. And if their myth still tends toward the mystical, there is no denying its value as a showcase for the always-alluring Carolyn Defrin, whose agile grace and composed intensity easily distinguish our exotic heroine from her wholesome companions—notably, Paige Hoffman as an insecure overachiever and Cliff Chamberlain as a supportive teacher.
Tommy Rapley's dance and basketball choreography supplies adrenaline sufficient to sate the visceral junkies who comprise the major part of HTC's subscriber base, as does Tracy Ottwell's clever puppets. But what sets The Sparrow apart from previous efforts by this undeniably talented ensemble is the depth of its intellectual dimensions, expressed in multifaceted characters of classical complexity.