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Elegant design and talented cast alleviate frenetic adaptation
|Emerald City Theatre presents|
|Fantastic Mr. Fox|
Review by Lauren Emily Whalen
It’s not every performance that begins with two children in a fistfight.
To be fair, this wasn’t part of Emerald City’s Fantastic Mr. Fox – but it was a result of the cast throwing beach balls into the audience (while also running up and down the aisles), resulting in a kerfuffle between the siblings in my row. The minutes before curtain seemed to consist of trying to wind up the little audience members as much as possible before quieting them down as the show began. Energy is lovely, especially the pure innocent energy of a child. Unfortunately, this yelling and screaming was symptomatic of the entire two act, 75-minute adaptation. What began as a simple Roald Dahl book is now, in the hands of writer David Wood and director Jacqueline Stone, an hour-plus Fantastic Mr. Fox that’s too bright, too screechy and simply too much.
Wes Anderson adapted Fantastic Mr. Fox several years ago, using his now-iconic quirk. Director Stone and her production team seem to have emulated the Andersonian vibe with Alison Siple‘s vibrant earth-toned costumes, Michelle Lilly‘s two-level set with strings of twinkling lights and Jamal Howard‘s whimsical choreography. Visually, Emerald City’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is thoughtful and downright elegant. The casting is also spot-on, from Mario Aivazian‘s protective father fox to Brianna Buckley‘s dynamic, wide-eyed narrator to the charming fox children played by Rebecca Keeshin and Adhana Reid.
If only Wood and Stone would have left well enough alone.
Fantastic Mr. Fox has a simple story: the titular character (Aivazian) and his family just want to live their happy mostly-underground life, but are terrorized by a trio of mean hunters (Aaron Lawson, Isa Arciniegas and Jeffrey Hoge). When Mr. Fox and the kids are forced to go on the run, they find friendship and help through a sympathetic parent-and-child badger team (Buckley and Elleon Dobias). Dahl’s books have stood the test of time for a reason: from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Matilda, they believe in the power of the human spirit to overcome the stickiest of obstacles. By itself, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a sweet, family-friendly parable.
Wood’s adaptation (with music by John Kirkpatrick and Peter Parham), however, does its damnedest to scream “we’re quirky!” at every turn. From chaotic and ultimately forgettable production numbers to incessant comedy bits to rhyming dialogue, the script never slows down and takes a moment. Wood seems to be operating on the assumption that young audiences need stimulation every single microsecond, which is not only patronizing but potentially damaging to some. And Stone is along for that ride one hundred percent.
Emerald City has staged gorgeous family-oriented productions in the past: their 2016 Charlie Brown Christmas was a favorite of mine as well as my adult siblings and mother. Their Snowy Day and Junie B. Jones have also struck just the right balance between lively enough for little ones and affirming for the grown-ups accompanying them. Kids are intelligent and thoughtful, and Wood seems to have forgotten that in his Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is so loud and frenetic, the message of family and community is thoroughly overshadowed. I can’t speak for the long-dead Dahl, but I can’t help from wondering whether he’d even recognize this two-act telling.
|Rating: ?? 1/2|
Fantastic Mr. Fox continues through January 12th at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map), with daytime and evening performances. Tickets are $20, and are available by phone (773-871-3000) or online through VictoryGardens,org (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at EmeraldCityTheatre,com. (Running time: 75 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Austin D. Oie
Brianna Buckley (Badger, Narrator), Mario Aivazian (Mr. Fox), Tia Pinson (Mrs. Fox), Aaron Lawson (Boggis), Isa Arciniegas (Bunce), Jeffrey Hoge (Bean, Rat), Jeanne T. Arrigo (Mabel, Ensemble), Rebecca Keeshin (Fox Child 1), Adhana Reid (Fox Child 2), Elleon Dobias (Badger Child; Mabel Understudy), Emma Sheikh (Badger, Mrs. Fox Understudy), Diego Colon (Mr. Fox Understudy), Tim Leuke (Boggis, Bean Understudy), Shea Lee (Bunce, Badger Child Understudy), Sara Geist (Fox Child Understudy)
behind the scenes
Jacqueline Stone (director), Julia Schade Armstrong (music director), Jamal Howard (choreographer), Alejandro Tey (fight director), Eli Newell (assistant director), Michelle Lilly (scenic design), Alison Siple (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Joe Craig (props design), Aaron Shapiro (production manager), Marcus Carroll (production stage manager), Charlie Lovejoy (floor manager), Travis Bihn (wardrobe supervisor), Ian Scarlato (audio engineer), Johnny Schleyer (technical director), Honoria Ivankovich (guest assistant director), Austin D. Oie (photos)