Madness in Miniature: Live review

Meredith Miller in Shipwreck, to �The Moon Got In My Eyes,� sung by Bing Crosby.

Meredith Miller in Shipwreck, to �The Moon Got In My Eyes,� sung by Bing Crosby. Photograph: Greg Inda

It’s the little things and a new, weekly, late-night cabaret, Madness in Miniature, downstairs at the Chopin Theatre, drives the point home. Not always literally, although many of its ten acts involve tiny puppets and setpieces. No, the takeaway of this 90-minute curio cabinet is a renewed appreciation of things far smaller than, for example, the yellow plastic airplane representing Amelia Earhart’s Electra in Flight, Jason Adams’s tragicomic storytime-with-objects.

Choices. They’re minuscule, and we make billions of them each day. Good or bad, they add up to make really big things like skyscrapers, wars and regrets. In most of Madness, each choice gets a luxurious amount of breathing room, space that acts like a magnifying glass so we notice how it fits into the others around it. And so many of them are smart choices, delicious twists of moment.

Meredith Miller performs over half of these acts. Her solos each consist of just a handful of elements: An old song (“Speak Low,” a tango by Piazzolla), plus an object (a gorgeous, handmade galleon hat; a stickpin), plus a visual joke totally unadorned yet fabulously layered. I won’t give any of them away, but there are more in the collection than she showed March 24—an in-progress showcase at Links Hall in January included hat rack trysts and macabre tea parties just as brilliant but not on the Madness menu. All give the sense that we’re seeing things in slow motion, what would happen in the flash of a few seconds “at normal speed.” The pleasure comes from Miller’s expert pacing of each resolution’s reveal.

Adams’s pair of pieces, Flight and The Kraken, complement how Miller makes instants epic. Four possible explanations for Earhart’s disappearance are meted out with chapters of the myth of Icarus, but these stories’ giant themes get a toy-box treatment complete with childlike sound effects. The Kraken takes the form of a picturebook, its colorful pages activated by moveable characters on sticks and pop-up mechanisms. With Adams’s conspiratorial recitation of its salty, squiddy verses, they made me feel like a kid again.

On piano, Nick Sula appears throughout to play short ditties that sometimes function as wry epilogues. Despite being outwardly in tune—puppets and miniatures are central—Emmy Bean’s two scenes, Baby and War Bride, feel dissonant, comprised of odd choices or perhaps just too many.

Miller tells me via e-mail that the show’s lineup is tentatively firm through April 28; afterward, she hopes to continue the concept while swapping in new performers “to showcase different people within the puppetry and cabaret community.” She used classic recordings for her solos, singing huskily along to some, but says Sula will accompany future performances live.

See Madness in Miniature downstairs at the Chopin Theatre, Thursdays at 10:30pm.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)