Winter is that time of year in Chicago where you need to find an excuse to go out. Why bother getting off the couch when the wind chills are below zero?! As much as I enjoy streaming Netflx, I was glad to have an incentive to turn off the TV on a recent Friday night.
The art of puppetry is was brought me to life. Puppets and their masters were in the spotlight for 11 gray January days at the inaugural Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. Although we’re known as the Second City, there is no other U.S. city with an international puppet festival. Take that, New York!
The festival is the vision of longtime Chicago puppeteer Blair Thomas. Kudos to Thomas for creating an event that celebrates this classic art form that celebrates childhood and imagination. Several events event came with no strings attached… and by that I mean FREE. I attended one of the closing performances, Blair Thomas’ own masterful production of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, put on by the Chicago Children’s Theatre.
It’s a touching story about the transformation of an old man from being a selfish grouch to a loving, joyous spirit. Per usual, Chicago Children’s Theatre weaves a poignant tale that appeals to young children as well adults. With only two people on stage throughout the entire performance, it seems like a remarkably simple production. Yet, the thoughtful performance by puppeteer Sam Deutsch seems both charming and magical. Young children were wide-eyed with awe as the puppets came to life.
The other performer on stage is musician Michael Smith, the play’s co-creator. Smith provides not only the music, but serves as the play’s narrator. His gruff folk tunes are a perfect accompaniment to the old giant’s journey on stage. As he ban children from his garden, his entire village is plunged into perpetual winter. The giant then faces loneliness and despair, eventually coming to embrace the children, the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the world. Spring returns and the cycle of life is celebrated. It’s a heartwarming tale and served as a great end to the inaugural Chicago International Puppet Festival.
The author was provided with complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review.