Wednesday, January 25, 2017

PUPPET REVIEWS II: Diamond Dogs, Silencio Blanco, and Immaculate, Poignant & Medium Length


Chi, IL LIVE Shows On Our Radar:

ChiIL Mama's reviews from 2 puppet shows Sunday, 1 Tuesday, and more upcoming shows we're catching this week. New show times are being added throughout the fest, if possible, when shows sell out, so check back early and often. Updated listings are HERE.

Sunday afternoon, I caught Silencio Blanco at the MCA Stage-Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It's a devastatingly beautiful piece where death and destruction mix with the banalities and struggles of hard work and daily life. The puppetry is a marvel with 3 puppeteers sometimes manipulating a single small figure in eerie symbiosis. The body language and emotion personified in these puppets is nothing short of astonishing and truly world class. This show features sounds to great effect, but is utterly devoid of dialogue, so it transcends language barriers. Highly recommended. Thanks to the National Endowment for The Arts, this production was able to tour Chicago communities Monday and they're now off on a multi state tour.

MCA Stage-Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents 
Silencio Blanco, 
via Santiago, Chile, performing Chiflón el Silencio del Carbón (Chiflón Silence of the Coal)
at the MCA Chicago Edlis Neeson Theatre, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago
January 19-22: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $30
Run time: 50 minutes

A shaft collapses. A young miner, to keep working, must travel to Chiflón del Diablo, one of the most dangerous mines in Chile. Using white marionettes constructed of newspaper, this stunning North American debut ominously builds the violence of the global economy and affects a montage of sensations that are indisputably human. It is performed in silence. Based in part on the story of El Chiflón del Diablo by distinguished Chilean author Baldomero Lillo, and devised during trips to the mining town of Lota, Chiflón, El Silencio del Carbón  reflects a deep creative process. By not using text or dialogue Chiflón connects with a broad public, with no cultural, social or age limit.

Silencio Blanco is a collective of seven puppeteers based in Santiago, Chile. The co-founders, Santiago Tobar and Dominga Gutiérrez, work with white marionettes constructed with a newspaper base. In their montage, human sensations are represented through everyday situations and familiar gesture movements. Bunraku and marionette puppeteers transmit the human movement through the puppet, provoking illusion and suspended belief so that it appears as if even the heartbeat of the characters can be heard.


ChiIL Mama and the whole family caught the press opening of Diamond Dogs at The House Theatre. This one will be running through March 5th, so if you're local and trying to catch as much of the puppet fest as possible, you have a bit of time to make it to this one. We're long time fans of House Theatre's creative collaborations and stunning sci-fi and fantasy originals and adaptations and this one's no exception. The first act is a bit short on action and long on monologues and back story, but hang in there for the pay off. We also thought the show ended a bit abruptly and left us with more questions than answers. Do I sense a sequel? Maybe it's a bit like seeing the first Dune movie without reading the books first, a bit compacted and confusing as a stand alone piece. Still, Diamond Dogs is well worth seeing.

This dark dystopian drama is a disturbing commentary on illegal and immoral genetic modifications and medical experimentation without permission. It's also a heart pounding race for survival that incorporates love, loss, revenge, greed, and more. The circular stage and set design is a marvel and the acting is excellent. Recommended. 

What we love about House Theatre: collectible programs for tickets are always a true work of art, lobby bar where you can buy snacks and drinks to bring in to the show, divine decor makes Chopin Theatre a feast for the eyes-- a hybrid thrift store, art gallery, antique show room, and home for weird and wonderful knick knacks. We've been coming to shows here for decades and still see something new every time.

The House Theatre of Chicago presents Diamond Dogs
at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago
January 19-22 and January 26-29: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$30
Run time: 2 hours

Diamond Dogs is a classic deadly-maze story set in Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space Universe. Follow a future team of humans and transhumans as they investigate a mysterious alien tower, bent on brutally punishing all intruders. Body modification is the norm in the 26th century, and award-winning puppet designer Mary Robinette Kowal articulates and re-shapes actors' human forms into powerful mechanized players battling for their lives. Blood will spill.

The House is Chicago's premier home for intimate, original works of epic story and stagecraft. Founded and led by Artistic Director Nathan Allen and driven by an interdisciplinary ensemble of Chicago's next generation of great storytellers, The House aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular art form. The House is now celebrating their 15th anniversary year of original work, continuing its mission to unite Chicago in the spirit of Community through amazing feats of

ChiIL Mama saw this one Tuesday night. It's a great way to catch 4 quirky, creative shows at once. It's a diverse and surreal lineup that will entertain and amuse. Music Box was the standout of the evening, incorporating clowning and physical comedy with unraveling undercurrents and gorgeous, scrolling art. It was macabre and creepy in far more disturbing way than I had expected from the description.

Hay in Hard Times was also quite creative and unexpected. I ached just watching Christopher Knowlton's contortions. Someone give that boy a back massage!

Links Hall and Rough House present Immaculate, Poignant & Medium Length
at Links Hall, Studio B, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Monday through Wednesday, January 23 through 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15; $12 student/senior
Run time: 1 hour
Family friendly? No

In this sister show to Nasty, Brutish, and Short, four respected local innovators present medium-length puppet productions including: The Life and Times of Terry (Vanessa Valliere), An Inter-Dimensional Love Story (Myra Su), Hay in Hard Times (Christopher Knowlton) and Music Box (Liz Schachterle).
Vanessa Valliere, The Life and Times of Terry (15 min)
The Life and Times of Terry is a whimsical multi-media journey of romance, parenthood, and success.  A woman’s search for love has hilarious consequences told through clowning, puppetry, audience participation, drawings, photos and projections. 
Myra Su, An Inter-Dimensional Love Story (15 min)
An Inter-Dimensional Love Story tells of an unrequited love between a 2D square, a2, and a 4D tesseract, Caroline. Each “dimension” is interpreted through a different styles of puppetry: 1D and 2D by shadow puppetry; 3D by tabletop puppetry; 4D by digitally animated projections. Protagonist a2 travels between the second and third dimensions with pop-up book techniques.
Christopher Knowlton, Hay in Hard Times (15 min)
Hay in Hard Times stars a charming and somewhat bumbling character created by Knowlton’s butt disguised with a fake nose, glasses and other costuming. Using comedy, self-referential performance, puppetry, props, movement, imagery puns and abbreviated monologues, the work touches on identity, isolation, humor and self-criticism.

Liz Schachterle, Music Box (20 min)
Music Box is a poetic piece about love and loneliness within a mechanical imaginative world.  A Little Girl cranks a music box.  Within the box, a shadow puppet show plays out where the little girl finds a playmate, a magical bird man.  Their story is told through music and shadows.


Missing Links? Don't. Highly recommended! Embrace your inner nasty and get out and see this amazing showcase. This 11pm late night cabaret is running every Friday and Saturday of the fest. Each night is a different lineup and includes local Chicago talent and international performers with excerpts of their longer festival entries. We went Friday and caught a stellar array of acts. 

What we love: collectible buttons for tickets, seats AND floor pillows, Links Hall lobby bar for socializing before and/or after the show, and a chance to catch lots world class talent in one venue at a time that doesn't conflict with other shows.

Links Hall and Rough House present 
Nasty, Brutish & Short: A Puppet Cabaret
at Links Hall, Studio B, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Friday and Saturday, January 20 and 21 and January 27 and 28 at 11 p.m.
Run time: 1hour 20 minutes
Tickets: $10; $8 student/senior
Family friendly? No

Hit Links Hall for late night cabarets featuring short works by international festival artists, regional puppeteers and local talent. End your evening with a tasty selection of the raucous, raunchy, dark, sassy, sad and hilarious! 

The program provides a late-night hang out spot for the whole festival, an opportunity for out-of-town talent to bring shorter works, and a space for local artists. Each show features at least two mainstage festival artists bringing secondary short works, and at least two Nasty, Brutish & Short contributors.

ChiIL Mama's Chi, IL Picks List. We'll be out to catch all of the following puppet fest presentations this week. Check back soon for our full reviews.


Adventure Stage Chicago and Blair Thomas & Co. present Open Eye Figure Theatre of Minneapolis performing The Sorcerer's Apprentice
at Adventure Stage Chicago, 1012 N. Noble St., Chicago
School performances: Wednesday through Friday, January 25-27 at 10:30 a.m. (call (773) 342-4141 for tickets and information)
Public performances: Friday, January 27 at 7 pm., Saturday, January 28 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets: $17; $12 ages 14 and under 
Run time: 60 minutes
Family friendly

Open Eye Figure Theatre's adaptation of The Sorcerer's Apprentice for the marionette stage is a look at youth, aging and the allure of power. Creator Michael Sommers uses Goethe's 1797 poem "Der Zauberlehrling" as inspiration, expanding on the young apprentice's mishaps and mistakes in this original work with a unique Open Eye approach. With its highly designed production, original score and masterful puppetry, this show appeals to both adults and children.

Open Eye Figure Theatre is nationally recognized for bringing a visual feast of evocative figure theater to the stage. The Sorcerer's Apprentice was created by Michael Sommers who serves as Artist-in-Residence and is Co-Founder of Open Eye. He is recognized as one of the country's most ingenious theater artists and is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota. Sommers' numerous awards include two Bush Fellowships, two McKnight Theatre Fellowships, a Ford Fellowship and the Bush Enduring Vision Award. Most recently he received the Doris Duke Impact Award. His signature work includes A Prelude to Faust, Elijah's Wake, Strumply Peter, The Clumsy Man, The Holiday Pageant and many   

Blair Thomas & Co. presents Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic, conceived, designed and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, in association with Pasfarda Art & Culture Exchange 
at the Studebaker Theatre in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Thursday and Friday, January 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 28 at
3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, January 29 at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $40; $30 student/senior
Run time: 70 minutes
Family friendly

Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic is a visually breathtaking cinematic shadow play for all ages, created by Hamid Rahmanian in collaboration with Larry Reed. The play unfolds an action-packed magical tale of star-crossed lovers from the 10th-century Persian epic "Shahnameh" ("The Book of Kings".) Inspired by Iranian visual traditions, Rahmanian uses puppets, costumes, masks, scenography and digital animation to bring the story to life on a cinema-sized screen. The show features original music by Loga Ramin Torkian and Azam Ali.

Hamid Rahmanian is an Iranian-American filmmaker and graphic artist. After an early career at Disney Feature Animation Company, Rahmanian started his own production firm, Fictionville Studio, in 1998. Fictionville Studio films have played festivals in LA, Toronto, Venice, and New York and garnered major international awards. Rahmanian's films have been used in the social service sector to combat negative stereotypes about Iranians, to promote anti-capital punishment laws in the US, and to raise funds and awareness for the plights of disadvantaged women and girls around the world. Several of Rahmanian's works have been broadcast internationally on PBS, Sundance, IFC, BBC, DR2 and Al Jazeera.

Rahmanian's most recent project is the illustration and adaptation of the 10th-century Persian epic poem "Shahnameh" by Ferdowsi. "Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings" is a best-selling, 600-page art book published by The Quantuck Lane Press and distributed by W. W. Norton & Company. 

Links Hall presents Rough House's Ubu The King
at Links Hall, Studio B, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Thursday through Saturday, January 26-28 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15; $12 student/senior
Run time: 90 minutes

Ubu The King brings Alfred Jarry's seminal satire Ubu Roi to life in all its absurd, grotesque glory. In the hands of five power hungry puppeteer-performers, loveable tyrant Pa Ubu murders, lies, and farts his way up to the Polish throne - and back down again. Beautifully designed and meticulously realized, Ubu is ridiculous, heartbreaking and spectacular.

Chicago-based Rough House is committed to connecting individuals and communities through art that celebrates the weird things that make us unique, and the weirder things that bring us together. Rough House creates theater that captures the heart through the eye. Its shows use puppetry, music, and human performance to tell stories that are intimate, strange and sincere.


Chicago Children's Theatre presents Manual Cinema's world premiere Magic City
at Chicago Children's Theatre, The Station, 100 S. Racine Ave., Chicago
Friday, January 27 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Saturday, January 28 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Sunday, January 29 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Tickets: $25
Run time: 60 minutes
Family friendly

With their newest work, Manual Cinema transforms Edith Nesbit's novel The Magic City into a live, cinematic shadow puppet experience. When a young girl moves into a new home, she entertains herself by building a city using household objects. Through some magic, she finds herself inside the city, surrounded by life. Using overhead projectors, paper shadow puppets, live actors in silhouette, miniature toy theater and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema's Magic City modernizes the novel, building and illuminating a miniature city onstage that the audience explores themselves after every performance.

Chicago Children's Theatre is the lead commissioner of Magic City. Manual Cinema is a Chicago-based performance collective, design studio, and film/video production company founded in 2010 by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter. Manual Cinema combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive visual stories for stage and screen. Using vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, multi-channel sound design, and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity and theatricality.

About The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

Intent on establishing Chicago as a center for the advancement of the art of puppetry, the 11-day, city-wide Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival showcases an entertaining and eclectic array of puppet styles from around the world. Marionettes, shadow puppets, Bunraku puppets, tiny toy puppets, and distinctive, innovative styles of contemporary puppetry are just a few. 

The festival was founded by Chicago puppeteer Blair Thomas to celebrate and cultivate the city's reputation as a leader in the art of contemporary puppetry, and because there was no major international festival of its kind offered in any U.S. city. 

In sum, the 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival boasts 24 presenting partners, 22 venues, more than 25 artists from seven countries presenting 20 different shows and more than 90 total performances. 

The festival website,, is your online gateway to learn about, and with its new, shared online box office, purchase your tickets to this world pageant of top puppet artists and shows. 

Sign up via the website to receive important festival updates. Track the festival hashtag, #ChiPuppetFest, like the festival on Facebook, or follow the festival on Twitter at @ChiPuppetFest or on Instagram

For information (only) during the festival, call the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival box office, (312) 554-9800.

For more information, visit

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