An afternoon of existentialist, tragi-comic, children's theater...
Jeffrey and I had an almost indescribable experience on Saturday. We had the privilege of seeing Brain Surgeon Theater's vibrant and astoundingly energetic production of Johnny Ten Bones (which is part of Chicago's twenty-first annual Rhinofest at Prop Theatre.
Brain Surgeon Theater is a theater company like no other. They create original ensemble-based plays, rock musicals, dance shows, and other performance events that confuse, excite, and usually bring the audience uncomfortably close to wetting their pants from laughter. They work with artists from all backgrounds, including children, who, as they say, "wish to collaborate on highly unusual pieces with strong stories and strong actor-generated character work."
Gwen Tulin, the artistic director of Brain Surgeon, and I went to school together at Brandeis University just outside of Boston. She is...unique. I've worked with her as a director twice now. The first was in a production of CAVES!, Gwen's senior thesis, which was often referred to as the best, and yet most confusing production that the school had ever seen (CAVES! was later presented as part of their first season in Chicago, and featured Jeffrey as Professor Nerdwollap). The second, and much more recent was in Brain Surgeon's Two Evenings of Summer Dance in which I was asked to wear a set of pajamas that were sized women's medium. I am a men's large. Though the production made some serious bank, I think the real reason that the company put it up was because they had never done anything like that before and Gwen thought it would be hysterical. It was.
Anyways, back to the production...
Johnny Ten Bones was first produced by Brain Surgeon Theater in May of 2008. After a very successful initial run, the company decided to remount it this year for Rhinofest. The story leads us through a montage of dreams and nightmares, apparently based on the real nocturnal musings of the cast. We are introduced to a secret underground world ruled over and manipulated by a tortured little boy named Johnny.
Though conceived by the cast of the original production, the script was penned by one of the newest members of the Ruckus family, Mr. Aaron Dean. Now, it is possible that my opinion may be slighty tainted by my admiration of him, but I'm gonna say it anyway. The script is wonderful. In this unapologetic, frightening tale, Dean manages to splice the feel of The Donna Reed Show with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Once you add in Tulin's music which is at once comedic and eerily haunting, you have a fantastic night of theater.
The best part: this production is scary. I firmly believe that art should expose people, including children, to a wide range of experiences and emotions. This includes fear. Bravo to Brain Surgeon for having the guts to put nightmares on stage and invite kids of all ages.
Johnny Ten Bones features actors Chase McCurdy, David Weiss, Henry Barrett, Katie Canavan (from The Ruckus' Heist Play), Layla Kornota, Lily Moore, Liz Ladach-Bark, Maureen Allen, Ulana Coutts and Ethan Link (as the terrifying Johnny Ten Bones). Though a full set of Ruckus props must go to all of the actors for doing such a superb job with this macabre fairy tale, I must say that the highlight of the evening was Liz Ladach-Bark's belt-tastic "I Go Walking." While sung in a child-like manner, it was a perfect juxtaposition to the action on stage. The moment was well directed and extremely well-acted.
Opening day seemed a little rushed, due to the understandable excitement that comes with it I'm sure. I must say that both Jeffrey and I had a blast. Go see this show. It's good times.
"Eat your heart out Betty Davis!"
Johnny Ten Bones performs at Prop Theater and runs until February 14th at 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information and tickets click here.