Friday, November 19, 2010

Boojum! A Delightful Bit of Stuff and Nonsense from The Land Down Under

Boojum!  Nonsense, Truth, and Lewis Carroll, was every bit as much absurdest fun as it's name implies.   Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard's production is a great follow up to Lookingglass Theatre's fantastic interpretation of Alice, that ended in September.     We were entertained and impressed with this self described choral nonsense theater.

The production, featuring a book, lyrics and music by twin brothers, Martin Wesley-Smith and Peter Wesley-Smith was a hit in their native Australia. 
 This talented duo understand the fun, foibles, trials and treats of being twins.   They even include twin jokes in Boojum! like, "Is one of you a spare?"

In the show, the flamboyant, bald, tweedle dum and tweedle dee like twins were hilarious with their love hate ode to twin hood, and set the stage for so many psychological twin elements within Boojum!   Alice was twinned with her elderly and child self.   And of course Dodgson was twinned with the more outrageous Lewis Carroll.   

We especially liked the simple but effective use of neck wear to enhance the twinning illusion.   Alice, as a child, wore a candy necklace choker while her older self wore long, elegant strands of pearls.   Dodgson wore a rolled, black bandanna, reminiscent of a clerical collar, while Carroll alternately flaunted an irreverent pearl choker and a silk scarf.    

Snark Hunters: Sara Sevigny (Butcher/Clarrie), Heather 
Townsend (Beaver/Hargreaves), Michael Reyes (Bellman/Wally), Kevin Grubb 
(Barrister/Errol), Alex Balestieri (Dodgson), Laura Deger (Boots/Carrol), and Kevin 
Bishop (Billiard Marker/Carl). Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr. 

It was an amusing touch that the program unfolds into a giant, blank page labeled The Bellman's Map.   It was truly a pleasure to follow the intrepid explorers on their Snipe Hunt into the existential void.

Kevin Grubb (Barrister/Errol), Kevin Bishop (Billiard 
Marker/Carl), and Laura Deger (Boots/Cora).   Photo by John W. Sisson, 

The Australian butcher girl, The bearded Russian, The anarchist worker in her Doc Martin's boots and safety pin laden black, and the U.S. patriot, investor were all a treat to see.

Stephen Rader (Banker/Al) in Caffeine Theatre and 
Chicago Opera Vanguard’s “Boojum! Nonsense, Truth, and Lewis Carroll.” Photo by 
John W. Sisson, Jr.  

The over the top, playful costumes stood out even more in contrast to the minimalist set.   Aside from a ladder, a few bare wooden platforms, arched wooden beams, and a couple of white curtains that doubled as projection screens and sails, the set was stark. 

Jeremy Treger (Carroll) and Company in 
Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard’s “Boojum! Nonsense, Truth, 
and Lewis Carroll.” Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr. 

Marielle de Rocca-Serra (Alice) and Jeremy Treger 
(Carroll) in Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard’s “Boojum! Nonsense, 
Truth, and Lewis Carroll.” Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr. 

Our Favorite Characters:
Jeremy Treger (Carroll)-for his magnetism as the devious, yet endearing, sexy scoundrel.   He reminded me of Fight Club's Tyler Durden, as the darker, more adventurous alter ego of mild mannered genius math professor and ordained Anglican deacon, Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.   We also enjoyed his Cheshire cat and cat-terpillar incarnations.

Michael Reyes (Bellman)-for his energy, wacky repertoire of faces, and ability to cry on command while singing.

Michael Reyes (Bellman) and Alex Balestrieri 
(Dodgson) in Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard’s “Boojum! 
Nonsense, Truth, and Lewis Carroll.” Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr. 

Sara Sevigny (Butcher/Clarrie), Heather 
Townsend (Beaver/Hargreaves), Kevin Grubb (Barrister/Errol), Michael Reyes 
(Bellman/Wally) Stephen Rader (Banker/Al), Laura Deger (Boots/Cora), and 
Kevin Bishop (Billiard Marker/Carl) in Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera 
Vanguard’s “Boojum! Nonsense, Truth, and Lewis Carroll.” Photo by John W. 
Sisson, Jr. 

So many of the Wesley-Smiths' songs had us laughing out loud.   And yet they didn't shy away from exploring (albeit gently and tastefully) the murky waters of Dodgson's less than holy hobby of photographing his child playmates in various stages of undress.   Maybe the 3,000 child photos he took were merely the pastime of an artist, committed to documenting childhood innocence, as he claimed.   Within the production, nudity is just hinted at playfully, and his subjects' lack of clothing was charmingly referred to as "undraped".

The true nature of his relationship with Alice and the other young girls, is lost to time, like the years of pages missing from his diaries.   Yet, it's indisputable that since his death, Dodgson's touched millions of children with his imaginative story telling and sparked numerous creative projects.   His characters have taken on a life of their own, and as Lewis Carroll, he has achieved immortality.  

Despite all the upbeat choral numbers, the deeper subject matter is convoluted and intricate.   DCA Theatre has self rated the show PG and recommends it for children 12 and over, but there's no violence or scary stuff, just a few risque bits.  The themes just may go over the heads of kids much younger.

I would recommend hitting the 2pm or 3pm matinees instead of the night shows, if you plan to bring anyone young.   I brought Du Jay, who was engaged and loved the first half, then faded fast after intermission.   By 10:00pm when we left, he was too exhausted to meet the cast and authors at the opening night reception.   Overall, we enjoyed this philosophical glimpse inside the diary and mind of the genius popularly known as Lewis Carroll and highly recommend it.

Hunting the Snark

By Daniel Smith, Dramaturg for Boojum! and Caffeine Theatre Associate Artistic Director
Boojum! is loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s mock epic poem “The Hunting of the Snark.” This poem, written in 1874 and published in 1876, details the adventures of a ragtag group of Snark-hunters who have set sail with the Bellman.  Each member of the Crew has an occupation that beings with the letter “B.” Their world is inhabited by jubjub birds and bandersnatches, fabulous monsters that appear in Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky”. 
Literary critics have variously interpreted the Snark Hunt as an allegory: it may represent the search for happiness, the search for monetary wealth, a failed business venture, or even a Hegelian philosopher’s quest for truth.  Carroll famously rejected all interpretations of this poem, and of his other literary work.  Having received an inquiry about the meaning of “The Hunting of the Snark,” he wrote back: “I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense.  Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them.  So a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer means.  So whatever good meanings are in the book, I’m glad to accept as the meaning of the book.”
If you would like to read “The Hunting of the Snark” in its entirety, you can find it online HERE 



Written by Peter Wesley-Smith
Lyrics by Peter Wesley-Smith
Music by Martin Wesley-Smith
November 16, 2010 — December 19, 2010 
Storefront Theater
$25 general admission; $15 for seniors and students; $10 for previews (11/16 & 11/17)
Running time: 2 hours, including one ten minute intermission.
Theater Advisory: This production is intended for ages 12 and up and contains mature themes.
“For the Snark was a Boojum, you see,” sets the stage for this fun-filled romp through the mind of writer Lewis Carroll. Part existential musical theatre and part fantasy adventure story, this riff on Carroll’s epic poem ”The Hunting of the Snark” examines the psychological life of Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man behind the Lewis Carroll pen name. As his poem warns, “catching Snarks is all well and good, but if your Snark is a Boojum, you will softly and suddenly vanish away.” But while the hunting party moves towards its fateful catch, they discover with Carroll and his Alice that Nothing is quite what it seems. Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard collaborate on the US stage premiere of this hit Australian musical.
Related events
Post-show Discussions
Saturday, November 20 and Sunday, November 21
Post-show discussions with playwrights Martin Wesley-Smith and Peter Wesley-Smith
Thursday, December 2
Post-show discussion with the cast and crew
Lewis Carroll Coffeehouse
Monday, November 29 at 7:00 pm

In the event of a SOLD OUT PERFORMANCE, a waitlist will begin at the door of the theater one hour prior to curtain.  You must arrive in person to be placed on the waitlist, no phone calls or emails will be accepted.  Approximately five minutes prior to curtian, any seats available due to cancellations or no shows will be released to the wait list.


Monday, November 29
7:00 PM — 8:30 PM 

Storefront Theater
FREE, Reservations Encouraged
Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard bring together local and international performers, writers, composers and choreographers to celebrate and respond toLewis Carroll’s work.  “Winning entries of Old Father William’s Frabjous and Curious Poetry Contest will be performed.  Refreshments will be provided.

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