TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON, Literally Theatre Chicago, at the Bailiwick Arts Center. Marjorie Kellogg’s 1968 novel is the bittersweet story of three hospitalized misfits–a boy in a wheelchair, a boy dying of a chronic nerve disease, and a girl, Junie Moon, disfigured in a brutal sexual assault–who find strength in one another’s friendship despite their differences. Made into a movie in 1970 starring Liza Minnelli and adapted for the stage in 1972 by D.D. Brooke, Kellogg’s tale constantly threatens to become either hopelessly sentimental or very dark indeed: the story of Junie Moon’s rape is horrifying.

Director Martin de Maat and the recently formed Literally Theatre company follow a third path: they undercut the sentimentality of Brooke’s adaptation by including selections from Kellogg’s less manipulative novel, but their staging also eliminates every shadow in the play, giving us three annoyingly high-spirited characters barely touched by their debilitation. From the moment we meet them, in the dayroom of the hospital, these three happy-go-lucky souls (played with Mouseketeer perkiness by Katie Cassis, Benjamin Downing, and Jean-Paul Menou) seem destined for success and happiness. Which is nice for them but awful for any sort of dramatic tension. Again and again these three easily overcome such obstacles as difficult nurses, bigoted neighbors, and the inevitable household squabbles. After a while it’s hard not to resent how effortlessly–and cheerfully–they get along in life. –Jack Helbig