Rachel’s Love, Redmoon Theater, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Anyone who says that theater is a dying art has never seen a Redmoon show. This troupe’s eye-opening pastiches of styles and influences–encompassing everything from commedia dell’arte slapstick to Javanese shadow puppets to ancient Greek masks–make it an unusual commodity in Chicago. The company’s unconventional approach to narrative and archetypal storytelling set it even further apart.
Like Frankenstein and last year’s outdoor spectacle Long Live the King (the King is Dead), Redmoon’s latest full-length production offers religion and spirituality as potential vehicles for understanding otherwise inexplicable events. Rachel’s Love retells the true tale of 18th-century Hasidic Judaism founder Ba’al Shem Tov, exploring the often contradictory relationship between faith and reason as an impoverished woman learns humility through love and loss.
The production is a technical marvel. The small Athenaeum studio space forces the company to work on a much smaller scale than in Long Live the King and their annual pageants. But the results are just as impressive: Rachel’s Love employs over three dozen puppets of various shapes and sizes, ranging from tiny handheld marionettes to life-size figures that require two people to manipulate them. Factor in the live mood-enhancing music and the virtuoso design, and Rachel’s Love becomes what most evenings at the theater can only hope to be: a transformative, transcendent experience. –Nick Green