A man with a paper-mache-style head, a literal nod to cubism, and a tattered overcoat slumps in a chair. There are two spotlights—, one on the man, the other on a newspaper far on the other side of the stage. Suddenly, but ever so slightly, the paper flutters, barely noticed by the man. This flutter turns into a slow but steady scuttling towards the man in the chair, much to his chagrin. As the paper moves closer he cowers in fear and paranoia until it reaches his feet. He carefully picks up the paper and reads, then violently crumples the paper in a bombastic and shocking reaction to what he had just read. All that’s left is a painful silence.
If this experience was intriguing, mesmerizing, or scintillating to your senses in any way, Michael Montenegro’s Drunken Half Angel and the Physical Festival are the place to be this week.
A Veritable Variety Feast
Drunken Half Angel is a collection of vignettes created and performed by Michael Montenegro, and there is so much to enjoy. Every piece in the show uses puppetry, mask work, and the occasional light accompaniment from the six piece music ensemble flanking from the side. Pieces range from political to fantasy, dark to joyous, and simple to deeply complex all at once. The audience would go from full-on guffawing into nervous tension straight on to shedding a tear all in the span of ten minutes. Some theatre-goers may be yearning for a deeper narrative, but the fun here is in drawing your own conclusions and messages from the work, and appreciating the art through whatever lens you would like.
Physical Festival Chicago Defies Expectations
The standout feature of this production is how often the audience’s expectations were shattered, or flipped on their head. To give one example, an amorphous grey column, sitting on a pedestal at the start of the show wearing a bowler hat, became a charismatic prophet, and even gave a beautiful and soulful rendition of Shenandoah. Nothing is as it seems, and this rule of sorts gives the audience something to look for throughout the show. The pacing of the show also contributes to this shock and awe, stretching out and slowing down moments to milk every bit of tension and anticipation out of them before releasing and giving the audience a payoff. The column says at one point “As in a dream, I am all there is,” which speaks to the flowing and tangential narrative nature of the show.
Avant Garde With Attention to Detail
Those looking for an experience on the outlandish side will not be disappointed, but even for those who aren’t, there is so much to appreciate in the precise movement present in the production. Every finger, every elbow, every streak of paint has importance and weight, and one can tell the amount of thought that has gone into the choreography. At one point during the show, there are two figures on stage, Montenegro acting as both. He uses a sleight of hand to switch between operating the arms of both figures, strangling with one arm and delicately reaching into a pocket with the other to nervously retrieve some loose change. The mastery of movement is very present, and would be fascinating for anyone interested in puppetry or mask, contemporary art, or modern dance.
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.
Shows starting at 7pm
1225 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
For tickets or more information please visit the Physical Theater Chicago website.
Photos: Top Slider photosLarry Lamb; Bottom Slider photos byJoe Mazza; other photos as indicated
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