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Theater Sat Dec 04 2010

Boojum! Surprises and Perplexes in the Name of Lewis Carroll

Caffeine&Cov_Boojum!_12.jpgPutting on a U.S. Premiere stage production that could legitimately be called an "intimate opera" seems like challenge enough. But Chicago Opera Vanguard's latest show, Boojum!, ups the ante by tackling a subject that makes practically no sense at all: Lewis Carroll's mock-epic poem The Hunting of the Snark.

Of course, to say that Boojum! is about the grand, silly poem is to sell the show's story short. The show uses the mysteries behind the quizzical poem to delve into the still deeper mysteries of its author, Lewis Carroll, and the real man behind that famous pen name, Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. As the show reminds us, Dodgson is a mortal, while Carroll will never die. The relationship between these two sides of the same man, as well as the curiosities of Dodgson's personal life, are subjects as central to the production as the snark hunt itself.


If that all sounds a little complicated, it is. The show is billed as "Nonsense, Truth, and Lewis Carroll," and it leans heavily on the merits of nonsense throughout. From the source material itself to the rapid changes of scene, time, and place, Boojum! essentially dares you to try and make sense of it all. Lewis Carroll and Rev. Dodgson are depicted as separate characters played by two different actors (Jeremy Trager and Alex Balestri, respectively; both give staggeringly passionate performances), and there are two different incarnations of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A young Alice and an adult Alice sing a duet together in the second act. During the first act, two characters that were already introduced to us as a Russian and an American strip off their facial hair and hats, strap on one rollerskate each, and sing a song about being twins in a scene that recalls Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. A theme of twinship that runs throughout the show may have a thing or to do with the fact that the show's creators, Martin and Peter Wesley-Smith, are twins.

Nonsense and confusion aren't usually the aim of an opera, but Boojum!'s Gilbert-and-Sullivan-meet-David-Lynch vibe is pulled off admirably by the small cast. Confusion, silliness, and vagary may be the best possible way to explore the life and work of such an unusual and surprising man as Lewis Carroll (and his moral counterpart). When executed with beauty and imagination, as it is here, the overall effect is much like the general delight one feels when reading one of Carroll's famous stories.

Boojum! is a joint production of Chicago Opera Vanguard and Caffeine Theatre. It runs through December 19th at the DCA Storefront theater at 66 E. Randolph.

Photo by John Sisson, Jr.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

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Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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