Chicago Shakespeare Theater opens its grand new performance space, the Yard, with a return visit from nouveau clown James Thierrée, last seen here fully a decade ago with the dreamy Au Revoir Parapluie (Farewell, Umbrella). Unfortunately the French artist’s new piece, The Toad Knew, is less of a dream but more recurring.
Though he’s still a master of oddball physicality whose precision fools the eye into thinking its erratic—and here’s where we’ll insert the obligatory mention that he’s the grandson of Charlie Chaplin—Thierrée allows himself and his five fellow performers to get bogged down in repetitive and too-small shtick that wears out its welcome long before the show’s 100 minutes are through. At least the main scenic contraption, a collection of gigantic lenses rigged up on a Rube Goldberg–worthy system of pulleys, which Thierrée describes as “an emotionally disturbed kaleidoscope,” is impressive, as is our first look at the reconfigurable Yard. But with only gibberish “dialogue” and lacking even the hint of narrative or character arc that kept us under Umbrella’s spell, our interest in Toad hops away too soon.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Created and performed by James Thierrée and Compagnie du Hanneton. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.