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SEE THIS: The Cabinet at Redmoon Central

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 9, 2010 9:05PM

2010_04_09_TheCabinet.jpg If you read our theatre reviews with any regularity, you know that we're not big fans of shows that rely on "stuff." However, when the main characters in a play are puppets, the game changes. Redmoon Theatre's The Cabinet is necessarily just as much about the stuff as the story - and it's beautiful. Contained almost entirely in a 14 foot tall cabinet - a metaphorical coffin/funhouse/prison and literal insane asylum - the production is an enthralling, meticulously constructed, disturbing ballet of objects that, as we missed Redmoon's original in 2005, is unlike anything we've seen before.

Based on the 1919 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Cabinet tells the story of a perpetual somnambulant whose deranged doctor coerces him into committing murder. Narrated via crackling gramaphone in a soothing yet menacing voice (Colm O'Reilly), Mickle Maher's poetic script combines with deliciously dark design and razor-sharp choreography (we don't mean of the dancing sort) to create the kind of production that would make Edgar Allen Poe jealous. Just five puppeteers (Erin Flynn, Adam Verner, Erik Wetz, Lindsey Noel Whiting and Vanessa Stalling, who also directs) manipulate puppets, scenery and projections with scientific precision - even while hanging upside down. As integral characters in their own right, they are identically costumed in shades of dreariness, faces painted white with features exaggerated into harsh, pointed shapes in black. Although at first glance they appear cog-like, there are many carefully chosen moments in which they serve as a silent Greek chorus - the most minute changes in expression speak volumes. The finishing touch that seals the audience's emotional connection to the piece is Mark Messing's rich, lusciously eerie music.

The physical work on this show - both in movement and tangible elements - is genius. Lisa Barcy's puppets are unbelievably expressive, and the level of detail involved in the sets (Margaret Goddard and Scott Pondrom, with Neil Verplank credited for the cabinet itself) and props - such as the most morbid pop-up book we've ever seen (Laura Miracle and Laura Annis) - is tremendous. And lucky for you, you'll have the opportunity to examine the intricacies of every element after the show, when the cast opens up the cabinet for the audience to explore. If that doesn't satiate your curiosity, Redmoon sells a very limited number of seats to the backstage area for each performance.

In his program note, Redmoon Artistic Director Frank Maugeri (who conceived and directed the original) refers to his company's style as "muscular and poetic." Tack-on the word "macabre," and you have the essence of The Cabinet. The hour-long piece, which has already been extended once so must close April 25, is a must-see. It might give you nightmares, but it's worth it.

The Cabinet, through April 25. Redmoon Central, 1463 W Hubbard St. Tickets $20 (group discounts available) 312-850-8440