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. Daring ideas and deft execution don't necessarily go hand in hand. But the folks at WNEP have not only tackled a difficult task--a stage adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's enigmatic children's book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick--they've done it well.

The original consists of little more than 15 moody black-and-white drawings with titles and captions, because Van Allsburg wanted his readers to use their own imaginations. The stage production Michael Ross and Dave Stinton have crafted preserves this maddening open-endedness while also telling a series of ripping yarns. In the mysterious framing story, a young woman not unlike an American version of Alice finds herself transported into Van Allsburg's pictures. She must literally talk her way out of this wonderland by learning to tell compelling stories based on his art. Along the way, the young woman (played with finesse by Danielle Hoetmer) also discovers the power of stories to wound and heal.

First produced in 1999, the show proved such a success for WNEP that they've remounted it with some changes. Having missed the original, I can't compare it to this one. But it's hard to believe that the 1999 version could have equaled Jen Ellison's staging, which has a wondrous evocative power.


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