Redmoon Review - Winter Pageant Was More Flurries Than Snow Storm

Redmoon has all the makings to be my kind of company: community engagement, repurposing of alternative spaces, dedication to physical performance and spectacle, and great ambition with each project. However, this year’s Winter Pageant’s ambition exceeded the execution, and the production did not stir up the awe-inspiring cheer that I expected. I sat myself close to the front, surrounded by penny whistle wielding children, to get the full experience and perspective, but even that audience was not engaged.

 

Yetis threaten to eat Schwartzmann

The pageant’s plot was a simple one: adventure camp pals and explorers Danielle Nicholas and Raphael Schwartzman venture into the arctic in search of a treasure they foresaw in a shared dream. When they arrive in this frozen and wacked out world, a great storm separates them, and they must endeavor through Yetis, tap dancing reindeer, and aliens to find the treasure - which is, of course, the ‘grand love’ they have for each other. This idea, as a secular and Chicago community composed new myth, is a great one; however, its execution and structure under-utilizes the resources pooled for this production.

 

Redmoon ensemble's pop-up dream sequence

The design team transported us in all elements throughout the production, most notably Becca Jeffords’ aurora borealis worthy light design and Stephen Ptacek and the Lonesome Organist (Jeremy Jacobsen)’s killer recorded and live sound design. Ptacek consistently surprises with composed and remixed grooves, and the Lonesome Organist equally lifted the show with his impressive multi-instrument ability. The sound was the energy and lifeblood of the show. Matching in spirit was Schwartzman's clownish and joyful attack of an otherwise sparse character. He bounced through the obstacles with a degree of refreshing fun that played straight to the kids. Although I struggled with the sequence and purpose of each set of creatures, Erica Gressman’s design of the 7-foot-tall reindeer puppet backpacks was fantastic and absurd. The community partners, Urban Dance Collective, shined as alien b-boys and b-girls adding a fresh element to the show once the plot started to drag.

 

Members of the Urban Dance Collective

However, in almost all cases, as soon as a group was introduced and reached a satisfying momentum, they vanished not to be seen until out of character in the finale. Each group had a large hand in composing each section, and with that, changed the world of the play drastically with each new scene. Not in a satisfying, Lewis Carroll method (which always upholds Wonderland as a strange place with a common absurd language), but very few things made sense in sequence. For example, about ¾ of the way through the piece, we are introduced to this myth of a dinosaur who fell in love with a star as an allegory for the extinction of the dinosaurs (well done as interactive shadow puppetry and projection design by Liviu Pasare). I still do not know the how or the why that fit into the world of the play or furthered the story. It held my and the audience of children’s interest when established, however, like many sections of the play, it peaked, fell, and then dragged on. Maybe if the play was restructured and tightened, we could have hooked in, but the transitions themselves took the length of time of a child carrying a huge placard from one end of the huge warehouse to another. I can understand where the show was trying to go with the search for the ‘grand love’, but the placards often blatantly explained what and the characters were supposed to think and learn, instead of allowing the story to do that. It is in the directors’ (Will Bishop and Katrina Flores) work to structure effectively the great materials made by the community partners, yet in the end it was sloppy.

 

Gressman's tap dancing reindeer

Real Talk: I’m excited for and will attend Redmoon’s Spectacle Lunatique in February 2015, because I believe in their reputation and mission; however, despite the work of the collaborators, this Winter Pageant did not live up to the Redmoon name.

 

Jill Gryzlak's impressive art direction

Redmoon’s Winter Pageant closed on December 21 - for more information about Redmoon and future projects, please visit www.redmoon.org.


Photos by the Silverman Group Inc.

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