It takes brains, heart, and courage to confront and transform a cultural icon, but playwright Phillip C. Klapperich and director Tommy Rapley do it in this House Theatre of Chicago show. From the opening “Pyramus and Thisbe”-like play within a play (the Munchkins’ take on Oz history) to the somber closing moments, when Dorothy is about to set off across the Impassable Desert, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz reimagines almost every element of this well-worn tale. In the process the scenes and characters become more complex–funnier, sadder, and more real despite the outlandish setting. The Scarecrow, for example, doesn’t just want a brain–he has to find out first what a brain is. His almost grublike lack of understanding in the first scene with Dorothy is both hilarious and irritating, just as it would be in life. Ditto for the overly logical, gloriously far from fey Tin Woodsman. Moments of high hilarity (and they are high, thanks to Rapley’s choreography and Kevin O’Donnell’s music) are contrasted with scenes of dreamlike scariness (Molly Brennan’s barking, hissing, and scrabbling as the Witch) and serious if understated purpose: ultimately Dorothy’s task is to take responsibility for what happens in the world around her. Though Oz’s politics make a somewhat confused allegory for our times, the general injunction to act is right on target. Through 11/5: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 7 PM. Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western, 773-251-2195. $15-$19.

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