For a good portion of the audience at Redmoon Theater's "Winter Pageant," the annual family show offers the first opportunity to journey to the theater company's new headquarters in Pilsen. Redmoon does not produce often and has, of late, become less of a visually focused, Chicago theater company with a season of shows and more of a creator of one-off spectacles doing weddings, private parties and really big public gigs — such as its plan to create a one-night-only show next fall on the Chicago River titled "The Great Chicago Fire Festival," when the city will be asked to cast its cares upon the water.
At times, Redmoon has gone months without regular public performances. And it long has had a complex relationship with traditions, often abandoning seasonal productions for Halloween or Labor Day, and those shows' fans, in favor of something new it has deemed more challenging. Only the annual "Winter Pageant," which I first saw and enjoyed pushing two decades ago, seems to have survived Redmoon's constant desire for reinvention, although it seemed to shrink in recent years to a shadow of its former self.
But as elusive — and frustrating — as Redmoon can be, no theater in the city is more inextricably linked to its space. And its new home is, to put it bluntly, a stunner.
You could assemble jumbo jets within the walls of this old warehouse at 2120 S. Jefferson St. in Chicago's gentrifying Pilsen neighborhood.
No performance space in the city contains such an amazing amount of open space, never mind the atmospheric roof tresses or the walkway in the air. No other venue I know offers such a sense of exciting theatrical possibility. There is some resemblance to the Edgewater Armory (formerly the home of the touring "Black Watch"), but that's a smaller joint with multiple demands on its time. The new Redmoon space, acquired with much help from the city of Chicago, is bigger than the St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn and will, once more work is done on smoothing some of the industrial edges, become an ideal venue for the kind of huge-scale, international-festival projects that tend to bypass Chicago.
The main performance space is some 15,000 square feet. On a tour before the show Sunday, I was told that the adjoining space, which is larger, is also to be on the table for performances. Truly, it's worth heading down to Redmoon just to experience — and allow your kids to experience — this kind of huge postindustrial canvas within which one can roam. On Sunday afternoon, kids were running around delightedly, cavorting on some swings that Redmoon's Frank Maugeri had built in one corner, drinking the free hot chocolate and enjoying the heat from the huge blowers needed to fill such a room in a Chicago December.
The actual show itself? Well, it's fine as far as it goes. Numerous contributors (John Musial, Maugeri, Will Bishop, Pranita Jain and Rob Warmowski) are credited, which perhaps explains the lack of a potent singular artistic vision.
For sure, one can enjoy the dancing of such community-oriented groups as the Kalapriya Center for Indian Performing Arts, the Pineapple Dance Studio, Indonesian Dance of Illinois, The Happiness Club and the Redmoon Ensemble and a fantastical if elusive story involving various kinds of birds and a tree.
Musial's music is typically distinctive, although the storytelling gets lost in this massive arena with its booming acoustics, as, frankly, do most of the performers. The aerialist, Helena Reynolds, is a distinguished exception. As in previous years, Redmoon trots out many of its wacky machines and objects d'art, which are always enough to tickle the crowd.
So has Redmoon figured out how to use its new space for its "Winter Pageant?" Not yet. There is not enough we have not seen before. As a chance to come together with other families and enjoy some music, spectacle and light storytelling, it's a perfectly pleasant hour. That's it. Nobody's world was rocked. Not yet.
Does this remarkable place have the potential to change everything for this company? You bet it does. This could be Chicago's equivalent of the City Museum in St. Louis, an amazing place that helps the most jaded adult discover a child within.
But that will mean Redmoon will have to focus less on itself and its mission, and more on finding a way to keep the people of Chicago coming through its doors. People in this town really want to love Redmoon, because they understand it is unique. The question now is how much Redmoon is open to an ongoing relationship that, in a competitive cultural landscape, requires constant attention.
When: Through Dec. 22
Where: Redmoon, 2120 S. Jefferson St.
Running time: 1 hour (plus hangout time)
Tickets: $25 at 312-850-8440 or redmoon.orgCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun