Chicago Theater Review: BELLBOYS, BEARS AND BAGGAGE (Redmoon)

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by Erika Mikkalo on May 19, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


In this year’s Spring Spectacle, Redmoon provides some characters, some comedy, some cruelty, their trademark whimsy, and ornate production values, but the chronological and structural aspects of Bellboys, Bears and Baggage are left to the audience. Visitors are admitted to performances in small groups and are confronted with three doors, each bearing an excerpt from the Seven Ages of Man monologue from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. And, as conjured by Jim Lasko and Blake Montgomery and created by Frank Magueri, men and women enter a world where they are not only merely players, but are deprived of—or liberated from—the conventions usually expected of the audience. Fortunately for all, the resulting free-form itinerary guarantees a highly recommended unique experience for each guest.


The evening unfolds with the cultural pastiche and studied quirk expected of this company, but the combination of masked mummers and leniency in sequence permit the viewer an experience that is Rorschach as well as theater. Which room do you like the best—Sublimation, Investigation, Absolution, Circumspection, Dissolution, or Vindication—and what does that say about you? Or perhaps you should not read too much into it. The Bellboys, between helpfully guiding guests or shining flashlights on vignettes, change the signs hanging over the door of each chamber.


Shakespeare informs throughout: The plays take the place of hymnals in a room full of pews. Nothing is accident: A scene of Othello’s entrance is bookmarked by a slip with the description of Lot’s Wife fleeing the city (perhaps an allusion to the speculation that Shakespeare contributed to the King James Bible). Why is there a dining table serving only onions and garlic between the boudoir and a niche filled with grafittied bridal gowns? It seems a reference to the lines, “Mopsa must be your mistress: Marry, garlic, To mend her kissing with” (Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene III), but the visitor is free to recall The Onion Cellar in Grasse’s The Tin Drum or simply layers of narrative and the cleansing inevitability of domestic tears.


A company of twelve—six men and six women—costumed in the same blue jacket with a yellow ascot for the men, cornflower twin sets for the women, enact brief scenes of courtship, conflict, and reconciliation. These echo the action in The Winter’s Tale (love, jealousy, tragedy, and resolution), so while a gloss of the play before visiting may be helpful, it is not necessary. The intricate sets leave ample room for individual interpretation, and some characters suggest American archetype; indeed, the women’s costumes are more suggestive of Vassar than Verona—does someone adore Cheever?—and the males, some dressed in Thurston Howell the Third drag (croquet mallets considerately provided), wear masks that seem like Rick Perry with a spray-on tan. Bellboys, Bears and Baggage is not an Elizabethan literature scavenger hunt, but, once you invest the time, it is an enchanting work.


Why the bears? The Winter’s Tale is famous for the oddest stage direction in Shakespeare: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” In addition to several bears, Blake Montgomery, the evening’s playwright, appears as Shakespeare wandering about. Baggage litters the floor, resentments and regrets alike, recalling the play’s status as a “problem play,” a chimera of tragedy and comedy. Some of the most haunting moments can be found in the rooms on the upper level, where a series of shrines invoke music, breath, spring, memorial, and the most charming of plague doctors. Enter after a visit to the cash bar, and exit, pursued by your own memories and associations.

photos by Al Zayed

Bellboys, Bears and Baggage
Redmoon Theater, 2120 S. Jefferson St.
entrances every half hour
Thurs 7-9 pm, Fri and Sat 7-11 pm, Sun 6-8pm
scheduled to end on June 8, 2014
for tickets, call 312-850-8440 x 123 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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