The Mysteries of Harris Burdick | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick 

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THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK, WNEP Theater Foundation, at Bailiwick Repertory. Chris Van Allsburg's dreamy paintings have inspired one of the more imaginative but peculiar shows in recent memory. Riffing on Van Allsburg's book, Michael Ross and David Stinton have created a grab bag of original fairy tales linked by the character of a young girl (nicely played by Abigail McBride) who learns the art of storytelling to arm herself against a sometimes cruel world.

At their best, the stories have a Lewis Carroll-meets-Rene Magritte surrealistic magic: a young man devises a flying machine for sailing into the sunset, a bird disappears from a piece of wallpaper. But like some of WNEP's previous efforts (The Wicked and the Sexed, for example), this show fails to differentiate between what's compelling and what's merely irritating. The pace flags noticeably during a flaccid pantomime sequence, an overlong tale of a magic chair maker, and an underdeveloped, self-consciously cute story about gangster tooth fairies.

Ambitious to a fault, this hit-or-miss show with an underutilized cast of 15 meanders through its peaks and valleys of eerie darkness and lighthearted whimsy, often losing the trail of the main story. A bit too bleak and verbose to succeed as children's theater but too disjointed and moralistic for adults, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick could use some focusing and editing. --Adam Langer


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