Jordan River Productions and Act Now Productions, Chicago Fringe Festival, at the Organic Theater.
Readers have been probing for mysterious meanings and coded messages in “Jabberwocky” ever since Alice puzzled over its backward words in a looking-glass book. Now Lewis Carroll’s parody of Anglo-Saxon dragon-slaying epics has inspired Indiana University theater student Michael Mark Chemers to write this dense, overlong, but sometimes quite clever one-act about a young man’s coming-of-age. Evoking a seemingly idyllic childhood that simmers with repressed anxieties, In Uffish Thought filters Carroll’s poem through a darkly whimsical sensibility that recalls 1950s movies like The Invisible Boy and Invaders From Mars, whose fantasy plots expressed deep-seated oedipal conflicts. The “beamish boy” hero (well played by Kevin Heckman) of Chemers’s strange comedy sets out to kill the mythical Jabberwock; on his quest he gradually acquires adult clothing and a businessman’s umbrella that turns into a vorpal sword, while his cozy backyard (complete with swing) becomes a spooky forest inhabited by mythical monsters, including the Jubjub bird, the frumious Bandersnatch, and an insectlike Jabberwock–soon revealed to be the hero’s father, who must be destroyed.
Staged in its world premiere by Chicago director Marshall Crawford and designed by Indiana University student Robert Schneider, the show affects a tacky children’s-theater style to reinforce its 50s-fantasy motif; but in fact it’s rather rarefied grown-up fare, too wordy and perhaps too scary for most youngsters. Packed with literary allusions and explications familiar to readers of Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice, this is intriguing, oddball entertainment.