Reviewed by Jennifer Benoit Bryan
Barrel of Monkeys presents Chicago’s Weird, Grandma, plays written by kids in Chicago Public Schools and performed by their teachers, the members of Barrel of Monkeys. I have to admit that I was a little worried when I saw all the kids who were in the theatre’s seats, I wondered if this would be a fun show for adults without kids, but I was reassured as soon as the troupe started, this is a show that’s truly fun for both kids and adults.
The background of the theatre company, Barrel of Monkeys, is inspiring. The company is a non-profit whose mission is to facilitate creative expression and improve writing skills in elementary school students in under-served Chicago Public Schools. Their teams of five teaching artists guide students through fun writing exercises and drama activities. The works created during these sessions are then adapted by the teachers for the stage and performed for the children at their schools and for the public through the Chicago’s Weird, Grandma shows. The teaching artists volunteer their time for the public shows to raise money to support the organization’s activities. Their motto is apt: kids write it, we do it, world saved.
The show’s program shares the original text of each mini-play before it was adapted for the stage. This provides interesting insight into the minds of the authors and the adaptation process, as we can look at the source material directly. And what amusing source material it is, think of the last time a grade school student told you a story, they tend to be a little disjointed with unexpected twists. For example, the story “Me and My Cat at Six Flags” by Michael W. of the Dewey Academy of Excellence consists of just one line. “My mom had a cat he was a Boy he had a wonderful time at six flags.” It’s short and sweet, but it is also surprising, and funny to contemplate. The cast of the show adapted this into a humorous short play of a boy and a cat on a roller coaster at Six Flags, when the boy gets off the coaster the cat disdainfully chooses to ride again.
The show’s themes run the gamut of thoughts grade school students are having from ninjas, magic hats, bubble gum parties, bullying, body image, hair, and aliens. The cast does an excellent job of keeping the spirit of the children’s work alive and enhancing it with songs, dances, and acting. The show’s Artistic Director, Molly Brennan, and the Musical Director, Gwen Tulin, as well as the talented cast, work together to create a show that moves along smoothly while providing ample entertainment.
Chicago’s Weird, Grandma is partnering with a variety of Chicago performing artists who will each be performing a student story at one performance through December 2nd. On opening night, the guest was Manual Cinema who performed the story Hair Fear!!!! using overhead projectors, paper puppets, and actors supported by a live band. It was incredible, three artists worked together to create shadow imagery on a screen that was truly impressive and unexpected. Upcoming guests include Jessica Hudson on November 4, the Neo-Futurists and Bailiwick Chicago Theater on November 11, Jyldo on November 18, the Hypocrites on November 25, and About Face Theatere and Noah Ginex Puppet Company on December 2.
Running Time: One hour with no intermission
At the Neo-Futurist Theatre, 5153 N. Ashland Ave.
Written by Chicago Public School Students
Artistic Direction by Molly Brennan
Mondays at 8pm
Thru December 2
Buy Tickets at www.barrelofmonkeys.org
Production photo by Beth Bullock