Thursday, January 19, 2023

REVIEW: Moby Dick by Plexus Polaire (Norway/France)

 ChiIL Mama’s ChiIL Picks List

Moby Dick
by Plexus Polaire 

Recommended for ages 14+

Herman Melville’s monster work of literature is also a 
monster in puppetry in this Chicago premiere. Seven actors, 50 puppets, video projections on smoke, an octobass, and a whale-sized whale all play a part in this dizzying dive into the inexplicable mysteries of life.

Run time is 85 minutes

By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Here at ChiIL Mama we've been covering The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival since its inception, and we're thrilled to see how it's grown. There's so much world class talent and creativity right on our doorstep. Plexus Polaire kicked off this year's fest with a masterpiece of epic proportions with their take on Moby Dick.

Do note, if you're looking at the Family Friendly designation on the master schedule and thinking of bringing the kids, this production is an intense, macabre journey that might terrify young or sensitive audience members. Here be monsters! That said, those 14-114 who love a dark and daring production with ginormous puppets, creepy masks, and heavy music, this is a must-see. 

The show opens with 3 musicians on drums, cello, electric guitar and vocals, who provide a hauntingly heavy score that I loved and some detested. Think Bjork fronting an industrial metal band with eerie, etherial vocals and waves of loud, dissonant chords; my aural happy place!

This Moby Dick is true to the poetic wordplay, adventure, and inner/outer turmoil that has made the novel an enduring classic. Yet, this puppet-heavy piece is excitingly new storytelling. The visuals are gorgeous, from the flashes of tiny fish and whales of varying sizes, to the stunning projection work that immerses the audience in the swirling light and shadows of the vast ocean. The puppetry work is world class, with life-sized figures filling out crowd scenes, multiple nearly invisible puppeteers working the larger beasts and Captain Ahab, and delightful shifts in the audience's perspective from beside to above the ship, The Pequod.

I was enamored with the shark attack, Pip's fall into the sea and subsequent insanity, and Queequeg's illness, premature coffin bed, and mystifying puppet pipe smoking. Even the ocean waves are a character that enclose, undulate, and seem to have almost a sentient malevolence. 

Giant Ahab's aerial decent into madness, a life-sized whale, and the ultimate destruction of the ship, leaving narrator Ishmael as the sole human survivor, proved to be epic storytelling indeed. Highly recommended. ★★★★ Four out of four stars. 

Bonnie is a Chicago based writer, theatre critic, photographer, videographer, actress, artist and Mama. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

Watch the trailer. Be amazed:

Moby Dick - trailer "The Prophecy" - Plexus Polaire - création 2020

Did you know?

  • Moby Dick launches the 5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, the largest of its kind in North America, January 18-29, 2023, with companies from Chicago, the U.S. and around the world performing works sure to astonish and delight at venues large and small throughout the city. See the full festival line-up below.

  • For 12 consecutive days in January, Chicago will be the puppetry capital of the world, home to more than 100 performances and events around the city that promise to astonish and delight. From bunraku, to shadow, to crankie scroll, pageant-style puppets and more, puppets will take over Chicago for 12 amazing days and nights of inspiration and invention. 

  • This year, the Chicago Puppet Fest has “gone annual,” launching a new era for Chicago as an international destination for the art and study of puppetry. 

  • Don't wait to get your tickets as some performances are already sold out. For tickets and information, visit



5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival: 2023
Watch the new sizzle reel previewing the 
5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

Tickets are now on sale for the 5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, the largest of its kind in North America, returning January 18-29, 2023, at venues large and small throughout the city. For tickets and information, visit

Artistic Director and Festival Founder Blair Thomas and Executive Director Sandy Smith Gerding have built a diverse roster of top contemporary puppets acts and artists from Chicago, the U.S. and around the world to be presented at theaters and community venues throughout the city. 

Ten countries are represented this year, including Brazil, Canada, Czechia, Finland, France, Norway, Japan, South Africa, Spain and the United States, specifically, New York, Boston and Chicago.

New in 2023 is establishment of a Pop-Up Puppet Hub with site-specific events activating various spaces in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue for all 12 days of the festival. 

First, the Fine Arts Building’s newly renovated Studebaker Theater will be the site of of two monster productions, including festival opener Moby Dick, a spectacle production by Plexus Polaire (Norway/France) featuring a whale-sized whale, January 18-21, and closing with Frankenstein from Chicago’s own Manual Cinema, January 27-29. Also at the Studebaker, the Chicago Puppet Festival will present its first-ever film screening of Basil Twist’sSymphonie Fantastique Film on January 24. 

Upstairs in the Fine Arts Building, ride Chicago’s last remaining manual elevator to the fourth floor and stop in at The Spoke & Bird Pop-Up Cafe, a central meeting place serving coffee, tea, winter soups and baked treats in a cozy, puppet-inspired setting.

Then, check into Motela puppet show by Dan Hurlin that doesn’t move. Or, tour an exhibit of the original storyboards, puppet characters, and miniature sets and props created by the Chicago Puppet Studio for Vancouver, the multi-award winning, made-for-film puppet theater collaboration with Ma-Yi Theater Company.

If you didn’t get a ticket to see as though your body were right, you can pop in and check out the remarkable set designed for only seven audience members at a time. And, be sure to stop on the second floor in Exile in Bookville which is welcoming festival-goers with a special display of books on puppetry, and plenty of copies of the many works of literature being brought to stage all over the city at this year's festival.

Add a Puppet Hub photo exhibit celebrating Basil Twist, one of two exhibits featuring the work of photographer Richard Termine, plus Twist’s live presentation of his amazing sliding Japanese panel work, Dogugaeshi(January 26-29, Logan Center for the Arts), and this year boasts a Mini-Basil Twist Fest within a fest.

Returning in 2023 are the FREE Neighborhood Tour, puppetry workshops, two days of free symposiums in the Studebaker Theater, co-presented by the School of the Art Institute, presented in-person and live streamed via Howlround, and two weekends of the Catapult Artist Intensive.

Blair Thomas, Founder and Artistic Director
Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival
Credit: Saverio Truglia

“Chicago demands more puppetry and the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is delighted to oblige! Our fifth edition is our biggest to date and the first time turning around a new festival within one year as we move to an annual model. We are filled with the energy of making it all happen,” said Thomas. “Audiences will experience the full range of puppetry style, story, and theatricality. While most shows are for adults, with many pieces being adaptations of classic literature, we have expanded offerings for children. We have also added the Puppet Hub to a robust schedule of shows, exhibitions, our first film screening, two days of symposiums, and the Catapult Artist Intensive. Puppeteers from around the world, nation and Chicago are absolutely prepared to astonish audiences.”

Past festivals have attracted over 14,000 audience members, including Chicago residents enjoying a puppet-filled staycation, to national and international guests who travel to Chicago every January to enjoy world-class puppetry from here and abroad. 

There’s even an Official Hotel of the Chicago Puppet Festival, the Warwick Allerton Hotel on Michigan Avenue, offering a discounted rate during festival dates with the promo code PUPPETFEST2023.

Visit to purchase tickets and for full festival information. Sign up for the festival’s e-newsletter to receive first notice on special events, exclusive offers, and behind-the-strings scoop. Or, follow the festival on FacebookInstagram or Twitter, hashtag #ChiPuppetFest.

5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival image by Saverio Truglia


Moby Dick by Plexus Polaire (Norway/France), January 18-21 at the Studebaker Theater, with private Opening Night receptions before and after. Herman Melville’s monster work of literature is also a monster in puppetry in this Chicago premiere. Seven actors, 50 puppets, video projections on smoke, an octobass, and a whale-sized whale all play a part in this dizzying dive into the inexplicable mysteries of life.


Visit for tickets and information about the 5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, and sign up for the festival’s e-news.

Follow the festival on FacebookInstagramVimeo or Twitter, hashtag #ChiPuppetFest. 

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