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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
—original review by
The Chicago based Redmoon Theater Company has outdone itself in living up to its reputation for blending puppetry, mask theater, movement and fluctuating set design with vision and flair. Its staging of the tragedy of Quasimodo and the haunted and hunted gypsy girl Esmeralda provides ninety minutes of enthralling theater.
Hunchback's visual razzle dazzle defies description. The adaptation of Hugo's dark story fits beneath the broad umbrella of the Henson definition of puppet theater, probably coming closest in its overall execution to such works as Julie Taymor's The Green Bird (see link below). Yet it transcends labels. It is a play in which the actors are masked. The masked actors are also represented as marionettes and rod puppets. Other theatrical devices abound.
As for the story, while Hugo's novel is completely reimagined, with Hugo himself an important and humorous part of the proceedings, Redmoon's Hunchback is true to its source. The introduction of a Hugo stand-in works beautifully. It adds humor and serves to fill in plot details for anyone unfamiliar with the story. (There's also a scrolling banner at stage rear which synopsizes the key scenes). Initially this Hugo alter ego makes an "we interrupt this broadcast" appearance protesting the use of puppets and funky music as inappropriate to his story. Like the audience, he is quickly won over by the cleverness of this adaptation.
The scene that greets audiences entering the Newman Theater is an industrial type set, with nothing to suggest the book's background of medieval France or the imposing architecture of the cathedral in which the hunchback is the bell ringer. Yet, the darkness, the odd shaped and rather ominous looking boxes and a scaffolding arrangement of ladders evoke the mood of the play and soon become as real as a more realistic setting (the latter is shown as a diorama at one point). The ladders are the dark, winding stairs of the cathedral and the masked Quasimodo is as convincingly tragic as Charles Laughton ever was. Esmeralda too depicts her emotions through her mask and body movements.
The mysterious boxes turn out to be various rooms into which characters disappear only to peek forth and remerge. As a striking version of multiple casting àla puppet theater, the full-sized, masked characters often share the stage with marionette or rod puppet counterparts.
Stunning imagery follows more stunning imagery -- from the Esmeralda's dance up and down the ladder-steps of the cathedral into the arms of a handsome rescuer, to Quasimodo's desperate effort to snatch her from the hangman's noose, to the emergence of Claude the mad priest grown into a giant-sized figure of doom. Most memorable of all are a dream scene, with the dream images painted on glass panels projected behind a scrim and a giant pop-up book which is used to recount the priest's history.
The work of the ensemble is remarkable and the pulsing beat of the music, the mood-perfect lighting and costumes all contribute to the enjoyment. A caveat for parents. This is definitely adult theater. On the other hand, the show that precedes Hunchback at the Shiva Theater, Shadow Plays/Short Stories is perfect family fare.
Notre Dame de Paris
The Green Bird
Shadow Plays/Short Stories
Festival Overview and other links