Filament Theatre Ensemble. By Tyler J. Monroe. Dir. Allegra Libonati. With ensemble cast. 1hr; no intermission.
Theater review by Dan Jakes
Hans Christian Andersen's icy sorceress has been a real It Girl this year, what with starring in a Disney box office hit and blanketing Chicago in an unrelenting subzero hellscape and all. Filament Theatre ushers in the queen, as well as its newly established Acting Company, to its new Six Corners, Portage Park home for the company's playful and tot-friendly adaptation of the beloved seasonal fairy tale. Tyler J. Monroe's hourlong show takes a decisively less mature tone than the one set by Michael Smith in Victory Gardens' long running 2006 folk hit of the same name. Instead, Monroe and director Allegra Libonati re-envision Andersen's story about a young girl's journey to save her childhood friend from cynicism as a living popup book, full of little surprises and audience participation.
Though Snow Queen marks the company's first full production in its new permanent space, the exposed-brick gutted storefront is still very much in development as part of the young company's ongoing $75,000 build-out campaign. In the meantime, clever tricks and charming, eco-friendly prop and puppetry work fill in for more traditional set design, lending themselves to Filament's communal storytelling aesthetic. The piece is framed as a tale told to a 19th-century family party, where Grandma (Molly Bunder) and Grandpa (Ryan Westwood) relay the events of friends and confidants Gerda (apple-cheeked Mara Dale) and Kai (Christian Libonati). When a ghoul steals and shatters the titular queen's magic and image-distorting mirror in the sky, two of millions of shards land in Kai's eye and heart, rendering him pessimistic and unable to love. Duped by the Queen (Lindsey Dorcus) to survey the world to piece it back together, Gerda sets out on a journey to save her friend and rewarm his soul.
Libonati and puppet designer Jeff Semmerling's bag of tricks include an audience-aided snow storm, a to-scale reindeer puppet, cloth rivers, paper rose gardens, and rope acrobatic work. It's all a little twee for the older kids that were at the matinee I attended, but for young children, it's a sprinkling of magic in which brutal winter finally gets some comeuppance.