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THEATER REVIEW Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-01-04

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Playwright: Doug Hara. At: Lookingglass Theatre Company at the Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. Tickets: $40-$75. Runs through: Feb. 19

Lookingglass playwright Doug Hara is not the first to observe that what scholars smugly call "history" is rooted in pre-literate parables, recounted by elders instructing future generations in lessons for surviving defeat, achieving triumph and preserving peace.

The cultural importance of these two opposing conditions as it applies to our society has recently come under scrutiny, but if the church congregation in one currently running play suffers confusion at finding itself suddenly delivered, literally, from all evil, imagine the chaos that ensues when conflict is unilaterally banished and every place becomes a "safe space?" Not for nothing did another recent play offer as its rallying cry "Story, save us all!"

What initiates this upheaval is the arrival of an extremely distressed Little Pig—one of the three celebrated for their house-building talents—at the dwelling of traveling raconteurs Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth. The Big Bad Wolf, it appears, has been horribly slain—not as in the familiar fable, but annihilated beyond all resurrection. This anomaly triggers a decline in lupine legends, to the discomfort of the victorious adversaries therein—e.g., Red Riding Hood—who fear their own tales of adventure likewise fading from memory.

After searching the lairs of menacing malefactors throughout the world at great peril, the Pennyworths' investigation takes them to Valhalla, the afterlife lodge of Odin's Norse warriors. There they discover that Saehrimnir, the self-regenerating boar butchered daily to feed the aforementioned heroes, has grown dissatisfied with his humiliating mythic identity, leading him to seek the recognition and dignity due even unlovable creatures by going rogue.

Mrs. Pennyworth's solution for placating the rampaging beast's wounded vanity without disturbing the cosmological order may prove elusive to playgoers upon first viewing, but the brilliant technical effects in this Lookingglass production are more than enough to rivet audiences' attention for the 90 minutes of the performance. Prosthetic fauna and silhouette mannequins display an agile flexibility rarely seen among their puppet kin through the dazzling realms. There are also a sweeping musical score and a steampunkish gypsy-wagon for our time-traveling sleuths ( played by lone human actors Samuel Taylor and Lindsey Noel Whiting )—neither of whom are ever reduced to mere facilitators, but emerging as fully realized fabula-deserving personalities in their own right.


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