A Dead Whale Productions Presents a HOG’S BELLY: A FABLE NOIR Review – Existential Angst Rat Style

Meet Your Inner Rat

For those of us who have a seemingly bottomless appetite for anthropomorphic projections on critters, Hog’s Belly: A Fable Noir is a feast. Rats—lots of them—a drainfly, crab and more take on a wide range of human personas in this spoof of the film noir genre, from do-gooder detective, to ne’er do well, junkies, mob boss and more.

Far more delightful though is how playwright Tyler Garamella has re-imagined the ins and outs of our human condition to a rodent framework. Existential angst comes in the form of wondering what the point is when the best you can hope for is a pet store life that might mean you are a meal-in-waiting for a snake or the adored childhood pet in a warm human family. Rat parents vow to make their childrens’ lives better than their own, never returning to the bad old days when parents ate their young.

A Dead Whale Productions Assembles Up and Coming Talents

What fun!

And clearly even more fun for the spirited ensemble that brings this story to life (Natalia Via, Hannah Mary Simpson, Elizabeth McAnulty Quilter, Brandon Nelson, Olivia Frisch and Joshua Bomba). This is young actor energy all the way around. You feel that they are still with that first sting of the theater bug.

The story—which beyond the aforementioned anthropomorphic plays on rodent realities—hews closely to the film noir narrative.

This is a low budget production, where you revel in the various characters turning lights on and off as they enter and leave scenes giving it a no-wall feel that you can rejoice in (Lighting Designer, Meghan Erxleben). Lighting is all important here because of half the story is told in shadow puppet or shadow rodent format (Puppet Designers: Dane Eisller, also the Director and Sara Mitchell).

Highly Creative

Low-budget does not mean low creativity, quite the converse! It strikes this reviewer that when the well-funded Lyric Opera was looking for ways to convey a shabby chic made from the rec room look in their production of the Magic Flute, they might have done better by consulting with newly hatched theater talents in productions like Hog’s Belly or Blue Goose Theatre’s BISON? BISON. BISON!  These are both productions that bottle the energies of up-and-coming actors, also providing opportunities for early warnings on young talents to watch. (Although the entire ensemble was good, this writer found Hannah Mary Simpson and Joshua Bomba intriguing. The latter is yet another Jackie Gleason incarnation that proves the most graceful one on the stage might be derisively called “the fat guy”, as he is in this script.).

The short program notes suggest that the Director and Playwright find some deep meanings in this script about our current politics and human experiences. This 60-something writer couldn’t find much there there in that regards. Rather, it awakens thoughts that this was a project born of the stereotyped “sophomore” year.

No worries though. You don’t need to look deep here. Take Hog’s Belly on its own terms, and sit back and enjoy.   Your inner rodent will experience it like a tasty hunk of cheese.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Note: an excerpt of this review appears in Theater in Chicago.


Thru July 29

Thursday thru Saturday, 7:30PM


Gorilla Tango Theatre Bucktown
1919 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647

Tickets: $15

Photos: Joseph Lin


Editor’s Note: Read more about this new theater company and what they have in mind in this production and for future ones in Picture this Post writer and Theater Director Lauren Katz’ preview, “A Dead Whale Productions presents HOG’SBELLY Preview: A Night in the Sewers."


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