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  WINDY CITY TIMES

The Winter Wolf
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-12-19

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Playwright: Joseph Zettelmaier

At: Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St. Tickets: OtherworldTheatre.org; $20 suggested donation.. Runs through: Jan. 6

Introducing children to the concept of death is a slippery proposition: Consider the shock of discovering that the security engendered by long games of peek-a-boo promising infants that losing sight of a parent's face is only a temporary condition was a falsehood from the beginning.

The science fiction/fantasy literary genre offers a modicum of respite from the immediacy of our emotional response to descriptions of irrevocable loss, but the necessary analogies of its universe to our own can unleash crippling real-life dread, all the same.

So how does a writer coax audiences into relinquishing the defenses they have adopted to conceal their existential disquietude beneath a veneer of laconic bravado and stoical disengagement? Joseph Zettelmaier's prolific canon evidences the playwright's intuitive grasp on exactly the right blend of curiosity and caution generating in youngsters engrossed with putting aside childish things, and the willingness to suspend disbelief without risk to new-found dignity.

Zettelmaier's latest play may be designated a "fairy tale," but the story forged by tween Cora and her grandfather emerges the saga of a questing heroine seeking to vanquish the predator of mortals in the "winter" of their lives, its narrative imagery steeped in totemic myth. This being precisely the kind of yarn constituting Otherworld Theatre's stock-in-trade, from the minute we enter the tiny "Alchemist's Lab" studio, we find ourselves, literally, surrounded by forest, conifer trees flanking the rows of seats both side and behind while still allowing room for moonlit romps. The fireside parlor at center stage likewise reflects a timeless coziness in furnishings encompassing a 1930s-vintage console radio alongside modern cocoa mugs.

These fanciful elements serve to pique our imaginations in preparation for a thrilling allegory, directed at brisk pace by Lauren Nicole Fields and narrated with the assistance of a shadow-puppet scroll ( called a "crankie" in the trade ), a richly textured soundscape, and a title character represented by a Bunraku wolf mannequin operated and voiced by Shariba Rivers with menacing authority and wry humor matching that of our intrepid opponent, played with resolute audacity by Molly Southgate. When you applaud at the end of the performance, don't forget to howl, too.


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