I wouldn’t blame you if you didnt believe a word I said about the Chicago Children’s Theatre production of Wiley and the Hairy Man. I’m lousy with conflict of interest where this show’s concerned. I didn’t realize exactly how lousy until I got to the theater and toted up the number of connections I have with company and cast. (Let’s not go into detail; let’s just say it’s a lot.) So you might be inclined to dismiss me when I say this Wiley’s probably the smartest, strongest, most fully realized children’s show I’ve ever seen. And yet it’d be a shame if you did, because I’m telling the truth. Chicago Children’s Theatre shows are always gorgeous, thanks to resident designer Nan Zabriskie; they’re always playful, thanks to resident director David Avcollie and his enthusiastic casts; but I’ve never before seen them combine beauty and playfulness with the degree of insight evident in this tale about a young backwoods Oedipus trying to slay his father-monster, the Hairy Man. Wiley’s far from subtle or ambiguous, but this production gives its simplicity passion and resonance, sweetness and wit. At North Shore Country Day School, through April 28 (Diller Street Theatre, 310 Green Bay, Winnetka, 935-9303). TuesdaysThursdays, 10 AM; Saturdays and Sundays, 1 PM; additional performances Friday, April 12 and 19, 7 PM. $5.

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