Spandex | Chicago Fringe Festival 2011 review

Chicago's Wishbone Theatre Collective takes on real-life questions of truth, justice and the American way in this thoughtful, ensemble-devised consideration of the comic-book superhero. We meet a group of elementary-age, superhero-obsessed kids. Though only the boys wear t-shirts sporting the X-Men or Spider-Man, the girls are equally hero-worshiping, playing superpowered princess characters with the boys at recess. Their unseen teacher gives them a project: Each of the six is tasked to create their own superhero to address something they see as a real-world problem.

Alternating with the kids' presentations of their heroes are scenes of an interconnected group of adults (played by the same twentysomething actors who portray the kids) in what seems to be a close-knit community grappling with the sentencing of a young man convicted of fatally shooting a police officer. The question of whether the kid deserves the death penalty divides these friends. Some encountered the cop killer as a young boy raised in an abusive environment and bounced around the foster care system, and lobby for rehabilitation; others want revenge for the senseless killing of one of their city's finest.

Sooner or later, we catch on (mild spoiler alert): The adults are the grown-up versions of the idealistic, hero-happy kids in the classroom scenes. They've matured into the world where things aren't as clear-cut as good guys and bad guys. What Spandex seems to be searching for is the intersection between the Justice League and the American system of justice; the real superheroes, it suggests, are those of us trying our best to find peace and common ground.

In a particularly thoughtful touch, costume designer T.K. Perry has the actors wear their adult civvies underneath their childhood superhero outfits, which tear down the middle of the chest in director Katie Jones's scene transitions. The effect smartly suggests the iconic image of Clark Kent changing into Superman, but with the civilian as the hero.

More from the Chicago Fringe Festival 2011

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