3:45 PM CST, November 29, 2011
According to my copy of Webster's Dictionary, the word "pageant" means "a spectacular exhibition" or a parade. And if you attach the word "winter," it would seem reasonable to expect some sort of seasonal celebration — something involving the holidays, perhaps, or the winter solstice. And for something like 16 years, that is precisely what Redmoon Theater has delivered at Redmoon Central — a quirky, parade-based indoor spectacle, full of this much-loved company's signature whimsy, charm, inclusively, sense of community and investment in the familial togetherness of the holidays. For a lot of Chicago-area families, the warm, inclusive lights of a Redmoon celebration are a treasured part of the holidays.
Not this year.
For sure, no artist should be tyrannized by a definition in a dictionary. And radically disturbing an audience's expectations has its place in the creative world. At the same time, no arts organization is well served by a bait-and-switch.
And to call Redmoon's "The Teeny Lounge Presents" a winter pageant is, to say the least, stretching the company's luck and the patience of its many fans. It would have been fairer for Redmoon to say that its was throwing off the Winter Pageant — just as it ended the beloved Halloween show in Logan Square several years ago — and doing something completely different. That, at least, would have been clear.
Here's what happens this year. You walk into Redmoon Central with your kids (there's not much reason to go without them). Your children will be afforded the opportunity to dress up in flapper-like attire and take their seats at little cabaret-style tables in a mockup of an old speak easy-style joint. Adults are seated in the rear. Everyone watches a cast numbering precisely two — Alex Balestrieri plays a two-bit lounge singer named Ricky D. Fish and Alice Wedoff plays his piano-playing sidekick, a mute. Or so it seems.
Ricky D. does some light banter with the kiddos — who seemed a tad perplexed, but happy enough with their milk and costumes, at the show I attended — and sings a few ditties. It's not easy for an adult to discern what's really going on here. It seems that the well-meaning but sorry Ricky wants permission to sing something called "The La Di Da Song," which was once heard on the moon. Or something like that. Frankly it was tough to know. And even tougher to remain invested.
Balestrieri, who is an engaging singer and likable personality, and Wedoff, a exceptionally honest actress and a decent musician, work like crazy to get something going. And, in fairness, they are warm and fun with the kids and fully enveloped in their characters. But the intent here of combining the very adult iconography of the faded 1950s lounge act (think deep, Tony Clifton-like irony) with the world of children's characters like Sponge Bob and his ilk is, to say the least, a bizarre marriage. The show — co-created by Wedoff, Balestrieri and Jim Lasko — somehow doesn't fully track, partly because the rules aren't clear but mostly because it's too hard for anyone to grasp what's actually at stake in this hour-long entertainment.
So while the performances are both enjoyable, and the environmental experience artful and distinctive, the piece is alienating and unemotional. And no pageant.
When: Through Jan. 8
Where: Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St.
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Tickets: $20 at 312-850-8440 or redmoon.org
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