First, James Grote’s original piece How to Survive a Fairy Tale is given a bright and energetic rendering by Lifeline Theatre. Jack, the son of a princess and a frog, is forbidden to read fairytales. Instead, his bedtime stories consist of instruction manuals. One day while his parents are away trying to reverse the curse put upon them, Jack is lured by a floating book of fantastical stories. Upon opening it, he finds himself confronted by classic characters such as Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood. Clueless to whom they are, Jack applies his common sense and book knowledge to help each out of their dramatic situations and in the process may help his parents more than they could ever imagine.
With an enthusiastic play on Jack’s name (“Jack Sprat?”; “Jack and the Beanstalk?”) and a funky, modern take on Red Riding Hood (sportily enacted by Amanda Link), this production flies by quickly. Director Shole Milos applies zany craft and gets playful, pertinent work from Nathaniel Niemi as Jack and Heather Currie, Derek Czaplewski and Jacquis Neal in a variety of roles.
Meanwhile, Chicago Children’s Theatre offer a brisk yet poignant musical look at Brian Selznick’s The Houdini Box. Selznick, whose famed book The Invention of Hugo Cabaret was recently made into the acclaimed Martin Scorcese film Hugo, is smartly adapted by Hannah Kohl here. With sweet songs provided by Kohl and Mark Messing, The Houdini Box tells the tale of Victor, a child obsessed with the magic tricks of the famed Houdini. After years of getting locked in trunks and failed attempts at breath control, Victor has a chance meeting with the master in a train station. Although when an understandable assumption ruins young Victor’s trust only time reveals the irony of his mistake.
Directed with humor and haunting poeticism by Blair Thomas, The Houdini Box is full of CCT’s trademark: their extremely inventive staging. Add layered performances by Alex Weisman, Derek Hasenstab and Sara Sevigny and you have a theatrical treat that children of all ages can enjoy.
How to Survive a Fairy Tale runs through February 26 at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling 773-761-4477. The Houdini Box runs through March 4 at the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport Avenue. Tickets are $15-$36 and can be purchased by calling 773-325-1700. The Houdini Box will, also, run from March 14 – March 25 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on 9501 N. Skokie Blvd in Skokie, IL.
—Words by Brian Kirst