Dory, or “Rascal,” as she is known to her family, is a six-year-old with a lively imagination, which includes her not-quite-a-monster best friend, Mary. Her older siblings, exasperated by her antics, make up a story about a scary woman who kidnaps “babies”—which to them means a kid sister with imaginary friends. But when Mrs. Gobble Gracker turns out to be real, things get complicated.
Through 5/28: Sat 10 AM and 1 PM, Sun 1 PM; also Fri 5/26 7 PM and Sun 5/28 10 AM; Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-404-7336, yptchi.org, $27 ($21 children under 12), 5+
Young People’s Theatre of Chicago’s Dory Fantasmagory, adapted by John Glore from the popular kids’ series by Abby Hanlon, is a cunning and delightful hour-long exploration of family dynamics and the power of imagination. It’s also something of a coup for the company. Glore, whose collaborations with legendary West Coast Latine performance troupe Culture Clash in the 1990s included a memorable reimagining of Aristophanes’s The Birds, had originally developed Dory for South Coast Rep in California, where he’s worked for decades. But when the big regional house decided to pass on it, YPT artistic director Randy White snapped it up for the world premiere, which he also directs
The intimacy of the upstairs space at the Greenhouse Theater Center serves this winsome story well, particularly for the moments when Dory (Maya Lou Hlava) and Mary (Jin Park) break the fourth wall to address Dory’s “studio audience.” These sections in particular may remind my fellow oldsters of Gilda Radner’s sketches from the early days of SNL featuring Judy Miller, a hyperactive Brownie performing her own variety show in her bedroom. Dory’s family lives on Klickitat Street—a fitting homage to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Beezus stories, which are also about an imaginative “pest” and her exasperated older sis—not unlike Dory’s relationship with Violet (Teagan Earley, who manages to make the character sympathetic even when she’s plotting against Dory). But Violet isn’t all the way grown, either. Her attachment to her doll provides a plot twist late in the story.
The five-member cast negotiates the shifts from everyday kid squabbles to confronting the fantastical with aplomb. Hlava and Park’s relationship is filled with high-energy antics that never feel forced—I never felt like I was watching adults pretend to be kids. Tamsen Glaser is particularly fine in the dual role of Dory’s mother and the comically fearsome Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Alex Benito Rodriguez as Dory’s brother, Luke, and Mr. Nuggy (a gnomelike “fairy godmother” to Dory) also moves easily from middle-child peacemaker to sometimes-bumbling trickster. The production elements, including Shayna Patel’s set and Cindy Moon’s costumes, add visual zest to a show that, judging from the happy reactions of the kids in the audience, hits just the right spots for youngsters.