‘Rabbit’s Tale’ is a sweet, unexpected find in the park
You don’t typically stumble across a moving little show such as “A Rabbit’s Tale” in a park.
Most free, family-oriented outdoor entertainments are frenetic, low-budget affairs wherein an overworked crew of sweat-splattered performers sing or clown themselves ragged trying to attract — and maintain — the attention of pint-size summer revelers and their hassled minders.
But then, few green spaces in the world are as artistically oriented as Chicago’s Millennium Park, and very few cities have a native theater company such as Blair Thomas and Company, for which visual delicacy and an open heart are at the core of the art. Thomas has created the Fast Fish Puppet Theater to bring his style of work to children.
While one can win and maintain the attention of children in many different ways, an emotionally resonant tale, delicately and beautifully told with an eye on the fragility of life, can be as adhesive as toffee.
And you don’t always need the hyperkinetic, pink-haired young singer/dancers whose brand-promoting gyrations fill up the likes of Nickelodeon and Noggin. By contrast, the wordless “A Rabbit’s Tale” is enacted to the accompaniment of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” played live and beautifully by Mary Rose Jordan on a Steinway in the center of the stage of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, even as a puppet rabbit climbs on her piano stool.
Take away the show itself, and that would still be a fine and accessible performance for any child to hear. It surely was the best part of my Wednesday.
“A Rabbit’s Tale” was created for indoor performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But even with just a piano accompaniment, it still fills the Pritzker stage in very satisfying fashion. That’s because Thomas’ puppets are in the Bunraku style. One character, vaguely reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s “The Big Friendly Giant,” looks about 10 feet tall. When his huge hands accidentally crushed a puppet butterfly, the little girl next to me looked as if her world had temporarily come to an end.
“A Rabbit’s Tale,” which suggests the love of a big-eared critter can conquer even the meanest of creatures, has a redemptive ending that makes everyone smile. But it’s not a show that totally avoids loss or sadness. Even the youngest walker through a forest in a park has to learn something about the fragility of life.
‘A Rabbit’s Tale’
When: Through Aug. 24 (Sundays at 11 a.m. and Wednesdays at 3 p.m.)
Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Running time: 40 minutes