Bellboys, Bears and Baggage

Theater, Experimental
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Photograph: Al Zayed
Bellboys, Bears and Baggage at Redmoon
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Bellboys, Bears and Baggage at Redmoon
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Bellboys, Bears and Baggage at Redmoon
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Bellboys, Bears and Baggage at Redmoon
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Bellboys, Bears and Baggage at Redmoon

Redmoon. Conceived by Jim Lasko and Blake Montgomery. Directed by Montgomery. With ensemble cast. Running time varies.

Theater review by Kris Vire

As I took a breather next to the in-theater bar midway through exploring Redmoon's immersive new Spring Spectacle, another couple of patrons ambled up for a drink. "At least I know what this means," one of them said jokingly to the other.

And I knew what she meant. An experiential installation filling most of the 18,000 square feet of Redmoon's newish Pilsen warehouse space, the interactive Bellboys, Bears and Baggage is meant to be explored at your own pace. Audience members enter in staggered groups, and the creators suggest the experience is designed to take about 90 minutes to get through, though I felt like I'd gotten my fill after about an hour.

The spectacle's marketing purports it to be inspired by Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, but aside from zooming in on that play's famously casual stage direction—"Exit, pursued by a bear."—to populate a third of its cast, I can't say I could track any clear connection to that piece.

The large ensemble is mostly divided among three character groups. One set portrays a man and woman seemingly acting out the stages of a relationship, from first meeting to becoming parents, through vicious fights and all the way till death does them part. These various episodes are played out repeatedly and simultaneously throughout the large ground floor of the space, which is decked out with two diorama-like box stages in the center; the edges are divided into baroquely decorated rooms filled with odd artifacts: church pews, record players, mounted animal heads labeled with the names of Shakespeare's major characters. The man and woman are silently played by five or six actors each, all wearing identical costumes, wigs and blank character masks.

Then there are the bellboys (some of whom are girls), who reshuffle a surfeit of literal baggage: old-fashioned suitcases labeled "shame," "fear," "guilt" and the like. And then, of course, the bears—a dozen or so actors in full-body bear suits who silently carouse, cajole, and flirt with audience members.

Unlike the couple, the bears and bellboys also are allowed to venture with us into the upstairs loft, which is walled off into a maze-like procession of nooks and crannies painted with quotes from various Shakespeare plays and stocked with hidden gems like an interrogation room, where a bear silently coaxed me into signing pre-printed confession statements like "I have hurt someone to help myself" and "I have thrown a recyclable in the trash and didn't really care." At certain intervals, a larger set piece comes together—like, say, an all-hands (and all-paws) dance break set to a medley of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and Robyn's "Dancing on My Own."

You might even spot Shakespeare himself, as portrayed by Montgomery (the only cast member I can confidently identify, since no program is provided and two-thirds of them are silent and masked); he runs around the ground floor conversing with audience members and seeming to orchestrate the actions of the couple. Are the man and woman meant to be The Winter's Tale's Leontes and Hermione, maybe? No idea. I only knew I was watching a re-enactment of their first meeting at one point because a bellboy quietly told me so, as though he was passing on a rumor. As is often the case with Redmoon, I'm not sure I can say what it all means, but I can't say I wasn't engaged.

By: Kris Vire

Posted:

Event phone: 312-850-8440, ext 123
Event website: http://redmoon.org
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