Expect to be Totally Immersed in the Story
It’s likely only at the final bows when you will truly register the impact of PigPen Theatre’s production of THE HUNTER AND THE BEAR at Writers Theatre. It’s then— when you are startled by your eviction from the imaginary world the theater group has immersed you in— that you understand PigPen's theatrical power. For almost two hours, the landscape of the Northwest in the 19th Century has populated your mind and wiped out the realities of the gorgeous new Writers Theatre space that is soon to mark its first year birthday. You get immersed in their tale-- in a thick forest in the Northwest with a ragtag team of loggers aiming to get rich. It’s a place where ghost stories can more than take root, and they do.
Music and Story
PigPen Theatre, hosted on the Writers Theatre stage for a second time, combines song, puppets, creative stagecraft, and fine acting to transport you to the imagined world of THE HUNTER AND THE BEAR. In the opener nothing intervenes with hearing the music and lyrics of the songs- foretelling the feelings of ghosts and demons in the thick forests. The music, the lyrics, the performance-- all quite good.
Then a narrative begins to unfold, where a group of men venturing to harvest the rich forests takes shape. There are ghosts in them there woods, and a prophet to give witness to them. One of the loggers is a father to an imaginative son. That boy, actually a puppet, goes missing, and from there the plot lines of anxiety and aggressiveness take off.
Script in Need of Edits
Along the way you might find yourself squirming more than a few times for a bit of liposuction on the script fat. This reviewer found myself longing for the end repeatedly, and wondering if it was in sight. But, again and again , the production was redeemed by the talent and creativity of PigPen Theatre. One minute you are eager for the end, the next minute you are swept away by the actors channeling ghost spirits that take over their characters.
Super Creative Stagecraft
It’s in the low budget stagecraft where PigPen really shines. You can’t help but admire their creativity when the cast is re-creating the sounds of a small crackling campfire, and then the next moment are pounding posts as well as drums to signal the passion of the scene. Their voices are soothing; their lyrics and songs are gripping. Script and acting define distinctive characters and dramatic moments in seconds. The script might be begging for edit, but the creativity at its core re-hooks you repeatedly.
Perhaps it is the life size puppet that epitomizes the PigPen magic. One part of your mind is ever mindful of the puppet master in the background and the puppet’s artifice. Another comes to think of him/it as the liveliest character on the stage.
Who Would Like This Show?
THE HUNTER AND THE BEAR is a top choice for anyone who especially loves the storytelling genre. If you are able to look past script flaws of too much repetition in need of edit, and especially if you admire creativity on steroids, this is likely a very good choice for your theater outing.
Note: This city denizen hadn't ventured to Writers Theater since it opened its new space last winter. Arriving early on a weekday evening it was very easy to find nearby parking. The new theater building is magnificent-- and inviting a return in summer months when its circling outdoor verandah is accessible.
Now through January 29, 2017
Tuesdays – Fridays 7:30
(3:00 Wednesday matinees on December 21 and January 18)
Saturdays 3:00 PM and 7:30 PM (Except December 24 and 31)
Sundays 2:00 PM (except December 25 and January 1) and 6:00 PM (except December 11, 24 and January 1 and 22)
The Alexandra C and John D. Nichols Theatre
325 Tudor Court
$35 - $80
To purchase visit the box office at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, or call 847 242 6000 or visit www.writerstheatre.org
Note: Also- at The Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 North Lincoln on October 31, November 14, November 28, and December 19 at 8:00 PM. For information on these performances visit https://www.oldtownschool.org
PHOTOS: Michael Brosilow
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.