“Honestly I might have to quit playwriting. Nothing I write will ever be as quality as this,” I texted my best friend, along with the full text of a story written by Alanna and Jonathan of Dixon Elementary School, starring Chicago’s favorite superheroes, Chance the Rapper and Batman. This story was written as part of Barrel of Monkeys’ educational creative writing program for Chicago Public School students and was one of several stories adapted into stage plays by the educators and performed in the latest incarnation of the company’s ongoing performance series, That’s Weird, Grandma. Frankly, “Day of the Dark” deserves a feature-length film adaptation, starring Chance the Rapper as himself. An idea as good as this one could only have come from a child.
I’ve reviewed That’s Weird, Grandma in the past; I was delighted to discover that some of my favorite holiday stories from last year, including Dear Hidolya, a musical adaptation of a sweet, endearing letter by two sisters explaining “what Hanukkah is mainly about” to a fictional alien, and The Time We Had a Snowball Fight, an epic, Matrix-style snowball fight, complete with grandiose music and slow-motion, choreographed movement. New additions include a monologue by a drum that doesn’t want to be played, a new interpretation of the iconic twins from The Shining (titled The Twins Who Freak Everyone Out), and a charming story of the day a child got their dog, told in its original Spanish.
What the Barrel of Monkeys team does so well is treat all its stories with love. It’s easy to laugh at kids’ ideas in a mocking way, but Barrel of Monkeys’ educators seem to have a genuine appreciation for their student’s creativity and a desire to translate that creativity into the best performance possible. What struck me especially at this performance was the reaction of the children in the audience. Some of them were fussy, clearly out past their bedtime, but even in their restless state, they found great joy in the performance. Certain jokes that got chuckles from the adults earned uproarious laughter from the younger audience members. It’s clear that the adaptors keep both adults’ and children’s sensibilities in mind as they develop their work, making it a rare show that is truly for all ages.
The holidays can be stressful, but That’s Weird, Grandma: Holiday Stories is just the thing to relieve some of that stress and make the holidays joyful again. And if you can’t make it out to see their holiday show, a new That’s Weird, Grandma: Stories of Change runs January 22 – February 19 and will feature stage adaptations of children’s persuasive essays, which, like all Barrel of Monkeys’ show, is sure to be a delight.
Location: Neo-Futurist Theater, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago
Dates: December 4 – December 23, 2017
Curtain Times: Mondays at 8 pm.
Added performances: Thursday, December 21 at 8 pm, Friday, December 22 at 8 pm and Saturday, December 23 at 8 pm.
Tickets: $15 for adults; $5 for children under 12. Discounts: $10 for students with ID, seniors, veterans and groups of 10 or more people. Tickets are available at the Barrel of Monkeys website or by calling (773) 506-7140.