Chicago’s Puppet Theater Fest returns for 2022 with old favorites and the wildly new, broadening what you expect from a puppet show
By Doug George
For all the things Chicago is famous for, let puppetry be on the list, and puppetry’s biggest event on the calendar is the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.
The fourth edition of the Puppet Theater Fest will be back in early 2022, with some 100 performances at 15 venues around the city. The international element will sadly be mostly missing this time around due to COVID-related travel restrictions, but you can expect puppetry artists from across the country in town for the event running Jan. 20-30, 2022. The schedule includes:
“The Plastic Bag Store” by Robin Frohardt (New York): This pop-up shopping the ground floor of the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue will be open through the festival, hoping to inspire new perspectives on the perils of single-use plastic. An imitation grocery store, it will be “stocked” with thousands of hand-sculpted items, each made from discarded plastic: Rotisserie chickens, cupcakes, sushi and products such as Yucky Shards cereal and Bagorade sports drink. Several times each day, the “store” transforms into “The Plastic Bag Store: Immersive Film Experience” created by Frohardt and her puppetry ensemble and featuring puppets designed by Frohardt. Opening night Jan. 20 with immersive experiences at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Then Tuesdays to Fridays: Store open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; immersive experiences at 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays: Store open 1 to 3 p.m.; immersive experiences at 11 a.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sundays: Store open 1 to 3 p.m.; immersive experiences at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. At the Wrigley Building, 410 N. Michigan Ave. Store visits are free; tickets to 60-minute screenings are $30 (recommended for ages 8+).
“Bill’s 44th” by Andy Manjuck and Dorothy James (New York): The party’s all ready, now Bill has to wait for his guests to arrive. The Brooklyn-based Manjuck and James together create one very worried protagonist in this comedy about both ingenuity and loneliness. A New York Times critics’ pick. Jan. 25-27 at the Chopin Theatre Mainstage, 1543 W. Division St.; tickets $35 (ages 16+).
“The Bluest Eye” co-created and directed by Margaret Laurena Kemp and Janni Younge (California and South Africa): Adapted by Lydia Diamond from Toni Morrison’s coming of age novel, putting it in a contemporary context. Jan. 28-30 at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place; tickets $30 (ages 16+).
“Chimpanzee” by Nick Lehane (New York): Through bunraku style puppetry, the stories of chimpanzees raised as children in human homes in cross-fostering science experiments. Jan. 22-24 at Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, 31 W. Ohio St. in River North; tickets $35 (ages 10+).
“Dogugaeshi” by Basil Twist (New York): Twist is known for his work on Broadway’s “The Addams Family” and Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker.” According to the festival’s press materials, the piece is influenced by the tradition of Japanese dogugaeshi stage mechanism technique and Twist’s own encounters with the remaining caretakers of this once popular art form. Jan. 20-24 Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 700 E. Grand Avenue, Navy Pier; tickets $40 (ages 9+).
“Dreaming” by Torry Bend (North Carolina): This collaboration with playwright Howard Craft and director JaMeeka Holloway examines the racist legacy of comics and animation by following two men deeply affected by Winsor McCay’s comic strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland.” Includes adult language, racially charged imagery and loud noises. Jan. 28-29 on the Chopin Theatre Mainstage, 1543 W. Division St. in Wicker Park; tickets $35 (ages 12+).
“I OBJECT! 30 Puppet Plays in 60 Minutes” by the Neo-Futurists (Chicago): Puppetry is at the core of the Neo’s signature style of high-speed show. Jan. 22-23 and Jan. 29-30 at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Andersonville; tickets $30 (ages 16+).
“Invitation to a Beheading” by Rough House Theater Co. (Chicago): A man is condemned to death for an absurd crime and sent to a surreal prison to await his execution. But the prison may not be what it seems. The novel by Vladimir Nabokov is brought to the stage by Michael Brown and Rough House. Jan. 27-29 in the Chopin Theatre Basement, 1543 W. Division St. in Wicker Park; tickets $30 (ages 12+).
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