Chicago Theatre Review
A Story, A Story
Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth – Lookingglass Theatre
Heroes and villains are everywhere, not simply in novels, stories and mythology. Every single person has the capacity and opportunity to demonstrate his heroism; and by the same turn, everyone can, if motivated, turn into a villain. In this world premiere, lovingly written and directed by company member Doug Hara, two people meet, fall in love and travel the world doing what they enjoy most: spreading the oral traditions by sharing all the marvelous stories from antiquity. But, as Hara demonstrates, sometimes the storytellers themselves become the characters of their stories.
The future Mrs. Pennyworth finds herself drawn, as people have since the dawn of time, to the magical tales told by a gentleman in the public square. She invents a reason to take her lunch to the same park bench every Saturday where, like her fellow audience members, she finds delight in the stories of adventure, suspense and daring experienced by heroes and villains, both animal and human.
Finally one day Mr. Pennyworth notices this lovely young woman, who has been an admirer of his oratory talent for a long time. They get to know each other, form a partnership and, finally, marry and travel the world together as a storytelling team. During their travels they discover one of the Three Little Pigs crying his eyes out. He tells the Pennyworths that the Big Bad Wolf has been killed by a giant monster, which has brought an untimely end to his story. Both Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth set out to investigate this disturbing calamity and solve the mystery of who or what has caused the death of the Wolf. By the end of this beautifully told 90-minute play, the stakes have been raised and both storytellers have sacrificed themselves as heroes.
Deceptively simple-looking, but technically challenging, Doug Hara’s narrative play employs a range of special effects and puppetry. Master artist and puppeteer Blair Thomas has designed and created an array of incredible creatures, some “as big as a house.” All the lovely shadow puppetry is the combined artistic achievement of Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace and Julia Miller of Manual Cinema Studios. The brilliant Mike Tutaj adds his dramatic touch with projections that seamlessly blend with the puppetry and live actors. John Musial’s abstract theatrical scenic design, composed of stage flats, platforms and trunks, magically fly into different positions. Mara Blumenfeld has costumed her two characters in earth toned woolen tweeds, so appropriate to the Edwardian Era of this play. Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman have highlighted the drama with their sometimes frightening sound design, and the whole production is painted with mood-inducing light by Sarah Hughey.
Samuel Taylor and Lindsey Noel Whiting play Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth with love, spirit and tireless energy. Both are strong and seem to care deeply about each other, as well as for the stories they share and the characters who inhabit them. Motivated by the work of author Neil Gaiman, particularly The Sandman, American Gods and Anansi Boys, Hara’s play demands his two actors be able to travel in and out of the real world to realms of fantasy, fairy tale and science fiction. Both Mr. Taylor and Ms. Whiting meet the demand. Their onstage chemistry is real. They share a sincere love and respect, both for each other and the stories they’re telling, by complementing and supporting their acting partner. Taylor is responsible for operating the larger puppets, while Ms. Whiting brings life to the many shadow puppets. She also plays a certain red cape-clad little girl on her way to her grandmother’s house. They’ve been directed with detail and obvious joy and love by the playwright himself, making this family oriented one-act a jewel of storytelling brilliance.
There’s much to recommend in this deceptively simple, eloquently told tale of two people who love each other and what they do. Completely willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, these two characters represent all of us. This captivating and sometimes frightening play is a love story, a murder mystery and a soaring flight of fantasy. It tells of heroes and villains who often share the same tale. But most of all Doug Hara’s new play is a tribute to the power and universality of storytelling, both quiet, personal chronicles and adventurous, nail-biting cliffhangers, that keep the listener on the edge of his seat. The story of the Pennyworths is a sparkling holiday gift that keeps on giving, right into the New Year.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 7-February 19 by Lookingglass Theatre Company, at the historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 312-337-0665 or by going to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.