The Old Man and the Sea

Best known for its huge community-based spectacles, Redmoon Theater also aspires to narrative on occasion. Sometimes these attempts fall flat, as when the company stretched an adaptation of the American folk ballad about ill-fated lovers Frankie and Johnnie into an overlong, gaseous evening of puppetry and dance. But sometimes these forays result in a show like The Old Man and the Sea, a short, sweet, dreamlike piece that begins as an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1952 novel but soon jettisons Hemingway’s stoic prose for a panoply of playful images: puppet fish curl across the stage, other fish jet across the screen of a postmodern magic-lantern show, a small wooden boat bounces haplessly on cardboard waves. Sitting above the makeshift stage is a lithe actor in a huge papier-mache mask–the old man himself. Oddly, the farther the show’s adapter, Frank Maugeri, wanders from Hemingway’s words, the closer he gets to the novel’s themes: the beauty of work, the mystery of the sea, and death’s dark, ever-present threat. This production, which features live music by Ned Folkerth and recorded music by Charles Kim, has been intentionally stripped down to essentials, the better to pack it up and tour. That simplicity not only suits Redmoon but Hemingway’s laconic, Zen-like novel. Though it runs little more than half an hour, this one-act moved me more than any of the company’s larger puppet-choked shows. Field Museum of Natural History, Roosevelt at Lake Shore Dr., 312-665-7400. Through February 27: Saturday-Sunday, 11 AM and noon. Free with museum admission ($7; $4 for children, free for children aged two and under).

–Jack Helbig

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