Chicago Puppetry Festival

No one can accuse Theater Dank of following a well-trod path. This Chicago puppet troupe not only produces enigmatic fantasies that defy conventional narrative approaches but often works in the midst of self-imposed bedlam. In 1998 they premiered Smell of Roses during a huge spaghetti dinner in a Logan Square church gymnasium, complete with balloons and live accordion music. A few months later they threw a sleep-over party, inviting the audience to lounge all night in their pajamas–the troupe served pancakes at 2 AM. So you might think the Danksters have gone all straight-and-narrow with their second annual Chicago Puppetry Festival, which features performances over two weekends by puppet troupes from around the country: this is no high-concept affair, just a gathering of like-minded people trying out 10- to 20-minute pieces. The opening weekend’s high point is likely to be Puerto Rico’s Teatro Maldito, made up of muralist and videomaker Beatriz Santiago and Theater Oobleck’s Dave Buchen (who’s going by the name “Bat-Cheat” this time around). They’ll present Libro del Buen Amor, a “puppet re-enactment” of the film Pier Paolo Pasolini might have made had he ever come across the ribald medieval poem that gives the piece its title. Theater Dank won’t be performing under its own name, though troupe members are appearing with other companies–and their impish humor may appear during the “puppet jam” on the festival’s closing night, when anyone can get up and do a four-minute piece. “We have no idea how many people will want to perform,” Dank’s David O’Donnell says. “But we’ve planned for 15. If there are a lot of performers left after that, we’ll probably just line them up and have them all do their pieces simultaneously.” Link’s Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 773-281-0824. Opens Friday, January 28; see theater listings for schedule. $10 per show.

–Justin Hayford

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Termine.