Mr. Popper's Penguins | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Mr. Popper's Penguins 

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Mr. Popper's Penguins, Lifeline Theatre. Think of the most mundane action, then imagine a penguin participating in it, whether actively or passively--see if the thought doesn't make you smile. Penguins are part of the magic in Florence and Richard Atwater's 1938 children's classic Mr. Popper's Penguins. Popper himself is a midwestern housepainter who dreams of faraway places, to the amusement of his wife and children, until the day a live penguin arrives at his home. Confusion ensues, of course, but ultimately virtue and perseverance provide the avian and human misfits their rightful places in the world.

Meryl Friedman and Douglas Wood's musical adaptation, now returning to the Lifeline stage for its third year, captures the story's delicate charm perfectly. But director Sean Abley, a product of the improv-based Factory Theater, has encouraged the actors to play their roles so broadly that they steal focus from Lynda White's ingenious penguin puppets. In particular, this year's Mr. Popper, professional clown Eric Stonestreet, delivers a circus-size performance that pushes the play's whimsy to the point of slapstick. Yet the resulting raucousness, with characters jockeying for top position, cannot eclipse the enduring warmth of this fable about a humble man whose unusual pets bring him fame, fortune, and his heart's desire.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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