The Elephant and The Whale - A Circus Yarn Like No Other

The Elephant and The Whale

What is even more spectacular than an elephant on stage?  That’s easy, an elephant on stage with a whale.  This magical pairing can be found in The Elephant and The Whale which is a result of another fine pairing (the Redmoon and Chicago Children’s Theatre).  Directed by Frank Maugeri (who is also credited as Co-Director) and Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, The Elephant and The Whale's four member cast combines shadow puppetry, panoramic painting, run of the mill puppets, toy theaters, folk music, a rhyming narrator, and then even more puppets in order to spin a circus yarn like no other.    

Kurt Brocker, Kasey Foster, and David Catlin

Standing out among the cast members is Kasey Foster who plays, among other roles, Ella the Elephant.  Her pleasing voice and strong stage presence anchor what really is a solid cast.  Kurt Brocker and David Cailin do great as rhyming narrators with Brocker also making a fine over-the-top villain.  And Becky Poole talks whale at least as well as Ellen DeGeneres (see Finding Nemo).  Although there were a few technical difficulties on opening night, the overall production values are very high and theater goers can expect to lose themselves to the spectacle on stage. 

Kasey Foster along with Kurt Brocker and David Catlin

If I had one complaint about the production it would be that it does feel a bit busy at times.  Writer Seth Bockley, who recently directed a very similar feeling adult play at Victory Gardens (Failure: A Love Story) penned a clever and witty tale.  Not too complicated and delightfully far-fetched, it reminded me of something Eric Carle might write.  However some of the on stage antics distracted from the story without really moving it along.  My own daughter (age nine) did not seem to mind and neither did the many children who literally oohed and awed their way through the performance.  One young child made it a point to consistently yell out the action as it occurred (“A whale!”).  In another place or another time this might have been annoying.  Last night it just added to the fun.

Ella the Elephant on stage

Bottom Line:  The Elephant and The Whale is recommended for families.  Grown-ups will wonder how the props work and children will wonder when they will get to see another play.  Helping children make sense of the play is a well thought out program that really gives some good inside information along with plenty of arts and crafts.  The Elephant and The Whale is playing at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts (1016 N. Dearborn Street) through May 26th. Tickets are $26 for children, $36 for adults.  The May 4th production is “Autism Friendly” with tickets sold only to families that have at least one child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Tickets for that show are discounted by five dollars and also include a social story and greeting in the lobby by a specially trained, caring Chicago Children’s Theater staff and/ or artist.  Special emphasis will be on having a "judgement-free" experience.  For more information or to purchase tickets go to chicagochildrentheater.org (for information related to the “Autism Friendly” show on May 4th, go to chicagochildrenstheater.org/autismperformance).  For more theater reviews, go to theaterinchicago.com.

Shadow puppetry captures a storm at sea

The cast of The Elephant and The Whale

Photos by Charles Osgood

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