Chicago Theatre Review
Puppetry Goes Wilde
The Selfish Giant – Chicago Childrens Theatre
Upon returning from a visit with relatives, a docile, loner of a Giant becomes annoyed when he finds children playing in his enormous garden. He turns possessive and miserly about sharing his peaceful woodland park with the kiddies. Filled with flowering trees, lush shrubbery and beautiful beds of blossoms, the grumpy Giant erects a wall to shut out the frolicking youngsters. Once quiet has been restored to the Giant’s garden he retreats into a deep sleep.
While hibernating, a bitterly callous Old Man Winter takes over the realm. Reminiscent of our frigid Chicago weather, the cold North wind blows mercilessly, burying the giant’s garden in snow and ice. Inside this wintery wasteland all is quiet but lonely…until early one morning when two children climb the wall and sneak into the Giant’s garden. Their laughter and happiness gradually sparks a rebirth, causing the trees to leaf, the flowers to bloom and the birds to return with their joyous songs. Spring returns to the garden and the Giant wakens and realizes that beauty and happiness has been missed in his domain, all because of his selfishness.
Originally conceived in 2008 for Chicago Children’s Theatre, puppeteer Blair Thomas and singer-songwriter Michael Smith return with their 50-minute hit production, part of the city’s International Puppet Theater Festival. The show is a magical journey into the imagination of Victorian author Oscar Wilde, upon whose children’s story this musical play is based. The story is poetic, pastorally peaceful and a thoroughly enchanting presentation featuring only two live performers; however, the stage is populated with puppets of all sizes and overflows with gorgeous, inventive scenery and props. Audiences of all ages will be mesmerized by delightfully agile young puppeteer Sam Deutsch, whose theatrical expertise and love of performing makes this production an absolute delight. Mr. Deutsch plays every role in the story, both as himself and through the many puppets created by Jesse Mooney-Bullock. Employing suitcases and trunks cascading with creatively designed props and scenery, Deutsch also sets and resets the stage for each and every scene. The performance is narrated through whimsical songs by Michael Smith. With the gentle presence and paternal demeanor of a kindly grandfather, Mr. Smith accompanies himself on guitar and mandolin, serenading his young audience with songs that tell Wilde’s story.
The creative team of Blair Thomas & Company, Jesse Mooney-Bullock’s bewitching puppets, Sam Deutsch’s energetic performance and Michael Smith’s modestly sung, welcoming musical narrative is an absolute winning combination. Children of all ages sit quietly, taking in all the cleverness and warmth found in this lovingly presented story that offers an important lesson about sharing. With children being exposed to so much violent entertainment these days, this exquisitely charming, peaceful fairy tale, told with creativity and magic, is a very welcome change that will enchant audiences of all ages.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 23-February 22 by Chicago Children’s Theatre at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 872-222-9555 or by going to www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.