Pictured: Ben Ferguson in THE HUNTER AND THE BEAR. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
If you had told me in advance that bracing freezing temps and sitting through an almost two-hour show with no intermission would be the highlight of my theater going experience this year, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, once in awhile, a production comes along that is so masterful at storytelling, so clever at employing any stage element for its innovative use, that the gripping bony fingers of unpredictability wrap about your heart as you await to see what these sui generis will spin next. This collaboration between New York’s Pigpen Theatre Co. and Writers Theatre on their original storytelling feat THE HUNTER AND THE BEAR proved quite simply to be the reason I love going to the theater.
Shrouded in the darkness of an old forest where beasts breathe in low growls and the supernatural’s terrifying voice echoes around us and inside us, a crackling fire whispers of ghosts and deeds unspoken. Seven men singing in goose bump producing harmonies, plucking and percussing on instruments made from the sweat of their ancestors, tell the tale of a man and his son, performed not just by a little boy, but by so much more, as the wisdom of an adult weaved with wood and glue and light turn the living into the incorporeal.
Shadowy figures crawl on strewn canvases, fires blaze hotter in our minds than reality, and a deer made of felt and hands perks its ears as it knows the beginning of the truly darkest of nights. Tall hollowed trees lurk over like sentinels awaiting the doom that is undoubtedly already begun. This entire team of creators from direction to performance to design consists of the smartest and most innovative talent the theater world has to offer. When was the last time you saw a stage production that successfully managed to frighten you? Kudos to everyone involved in the production.
I hope Pigpen’s ensemble can collaborate more often with proven Chicago theaters. The result is spellbinding. The New Yorker said this of these guys: “It’s like watching child geniuses at play.” I couldn’t agree more. Look what imagination can do.
December 16th, 2016