Stories written by school-aged children adapted and performed by, and largely for, adults constitute the crux of “Barrel of Monkeys: Chicago’s Weird Grandma” which is currently being produced at The Neo-Futurist Theatre. The stories are written by students at underserved Chicago Public Schools as part of the Barrel of Monkeys creative writing program, and appear in their program in the program. They are then adapted and performed by professional local actors on stage.
The stories are child-like, never childish, and the adaptations by the cast draw out the enchantment, innocence, and terror that make-up childhood and children’s literature. Even in their original forms, however, these student’s stories demonstrate incredible imagination and often pretty sophisticated use of literary techniques such as defamiliarizaion and the gothic. I was particularly impressed by Natalie D.’s “Rocking Chair,” and William H. Reavis’s “I am the Floor.” The stories, visiting theatre companies, and some of the ensemble actors change each week, but at the opening excellent comic performances were given by Jennifer Johnson, Nick Hart, and Mary Tilden with some very charming ad-lib by Tilden in particular. The entire ensemble is very talented, bringing a great deal of clean, laugh-out-loud humor to each of the pieces, and it is clear that they are dedicated to executing the children’s stories faithfully with warmth, but without condescension.
“Barrel of Monkeys: Chicago’s Weird Grandma” is being running at The Neo-Futurist Theatre located at 5153 N. Ashland Avenue in Chicago through December 1, 2014. Performances are on Monday at 8 p.m. Regular Tickets are $12 with $6 for children under 12, and can be purchased by calling 312-409-1954 or by visiting www.barrelofmonkeys.org