Review "Local Wonders": A Chicago Rural Oasis

Full Sky Productions presents

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At Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Avenue
Written by Virginia Smith and Paul Amandes
Adapted from the book by Ted Kooser
Musically directed by Paul Amandes
Directed by Virginia Smith
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm and 7pm
Thru January 9th
Buy Tickets: Call 630.457.1074
Running Time:  Ninety minutes with no intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

‘Fissures in memory and the past becomes a new world.’   Discovering the beauty in the familiar should be an ongoing quest.   Full Sky Productions presents LOCAL WONDERS, a play with songs.  U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser wrote the book “Local Wonders:  Seasons in the Bohemian Alps.’  Kooser described a vivid recollection of his Nebraskan life during a cancer scare.  Playwrights Virginia Smith and Paul Amandes capture the essences of Kooser’s awakening in LOCAL WONDERS.  With original music by Amandes, the show is the live, visual essences of ‘This American Life’ meets ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’  LOCAL WONDERS is a rural oasis where Chicagoans can find solace in simplicity.   

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Smith and Amandes wrote it.  Smith directed it. Amandes composed it.  Although Kooser lived it, when Amandes performs it, it feels personal!  The lines are blurred in the intimacy reality of Amandes as Kooser.  The stories and songs Amandes shares with the audience seem conceived in the moment.  The genuine connection to the material feels homespun and worn.  Amandes is an amicable storyteller that lulls into a cozy evening yarn.  Anne Hills (Kathleen) is authentic as Kooser’s wife, mother and other supporting roles.  Hills adds to the organic illusion with a well-placed  ‘don’t forget to tell them why.’  Hills is the supportive wife to the husband relating a memory.  Their chemistry is the charming variety of marital years in the making.   Harmonicas, banjos and guitars, musical instruments should always be included in a retelling of life’s moments.  Completing the musical melodies, James Robinson Parran accompanies on piano and with various other sounds.  Deliberate or not, Parran leans back and forth in his chair with creaky regularity.  Combine that with a squeaky floor, the Koosers’ kitchen is like coming home.

The set designed by Holly Windingstad adds to the Nebraska ambiance.  ‘Nebraska is not flat but has a slight slant’.  Windingstad transports the audience to look out from a kitchen table through a window to prairie brush in front of a big sky portrait.  The scenic layers of dimension perfectly accentuate the multiple stories within a story element.   LOCAL WONDERS is a rewind to unwind.  The relaxing reminiscences will make you nostalgic for ‘finding things to keep’ out of your own simple pleasures.

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