Playwright: Aaron Sawyer
At: Red Theater Chicago at Strawdog Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice Ave. Tickets: $40. Runs through: Jan. 7
According to Red Theater's playbill, the author of its play completed his script after grappling with issues of linguistic accessibility, cultural appropriation and the female objectification shared by lovestruck suitors and sexual predators alike.
His contemplations led him to conflate Edmond Rostand's 1897 swashbuckler, Cyrano de Bergerac, with Charles Perrault's 1697 adaptation of the folk tale we know today as Little Red Riding Hoodrelocated for this world premiere production to a post-apocalyptic realm populated by human beings mutating into animals. The text is recounted in voiced English, American Sign Language and screen-projected titles. Oh, and it's a clown show.
Aaron Sawyer's scenario initially proves surprisingly capable of sustaining this plethora of moving parts. Dialogue communicated threefold in simultaneous real time ensures every audience member's comprehension ( we are even invited, at one point, to help tell a joke in ASL ). The fanciful setting dispenses with the need for elaborate period costumes and weapons. Likewise refreshing is Little Red's calling out both Cyrano and Christian for attempting to woo her by means of deception.
So what ultimately upsets the balance of this multidimensional narrative? Ironically, the fault lies in the story's presentation through the larger-than-life lens of Clown culture. Not only do the stylistic vocabularies veer uneasily between the slapstick associated with the "red-nose" school of japery and the grotesque antics reflecting Clown's cruder roots in Commedia Dell'Arte, but theatergoers may find their intellectual grasp of such symbolic motifs as victims trapped alive in the wolf's stomach impeded by unfamiliarity with the source material..
This doesn't mean there aren't moments of calm cognition, most often instigated by Michael J. Stark as the silent Grandmother and Dari Simone as feisty Little Red. Benjamin Ponce's gentle and hesitant Cyrano, however, lacks the swagger befitting a cavalier duellist ( all swordplay is mimed, by the way ), while Dave Honigmanhimself a former Big Top circus clowntoo often portrays Christian more boisterously than his performance space can comfortably enclose. Our only relief arrives with sound designer Sarah D. Espinoza's choice of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" as our exit music after two hours of being buffeted about by conceptual overload.