Chicago Theater Review: ROSE AND THE RIME (The House Theatre of Chicago)

by Samantha Nelson on January 29, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

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A PLAY THAT PUTS YOU INTO THE COLD TAKES YOU OUT OF THE COLD

When The House Theatre of Chicago decided to bring Rose and the Rime back to the stage this winter, they couldn’t have predicted how perfect their timing would be. Denizens of the Windy City can always use some cheering up during January, Paige Collins (Rose) and Dan Toot (puppeteer) in THE ROSE AND THE RIME by The House Theatre of Chicago.but in the midst of this particularly brutal winter the tale of a perpetually frozen Midwestern town has never been so relatable.

Written by Nathan Allen, Chris Mathews and Jake Minton, the story is a simple fairy tale about a girl who leaves Radio Falls, Michigan to save her town from the witch that has trapped it in eternal winter. When she returns home with the source of the witch’s power, a magic coin, she’s initially greeted as a hero, but the plot turns surprisingly dark when jealousy gets the better of her neighbors.

Ensemble L to R: Tamara White, Christine Mayland Perkins, Jeremy Sonkin, Dan Toot, Kara Davidson and Ericka Ratcliff with Paige Collins (Center) as Rose in THE ROSE AND THE RIME by The House Theatre of Chicago.Paige Collins brings a wonderful mix of strength and sweetness to Rose. Michael E. Smith, who also played Uncle Roger in The House’s original production, seems to channel Peter Falk’s The Princess Bride performance in the kindness and concern he shows when telling Rose the story of how winter came to Radio Falls.

But this isn’t an acting showcase so much as an incredible visual spectacle. Director Nathan Allen keeps the action constantly moving, packing a surprising amount into the show’s 85-minute run. He and choreographer Tommy Rapley have engineered a series of delights. Ensemble members dressed in all-white snowsuits carry Collins on a sled for a wild ride and wave a white sheet around her to simulate a blizzard that manages to be so menacing I spotted a few kids hiding their faces behind playbills.

Ensemble members clockwise from top: Tamara White, Dan Too, Brandon Holmes, Michael E. Smith, Jeremy Sonkin, Kara Davidson in THE ROSE AND THE RIME by The House Theatre of Chicago.The mix of perfect choreography and ingenuity is also on display in the movements of a white rabbit who ducks beneath the snow and then pops up somewhere else; this is achieved through one performer disappearing in a puff of white confetti only to have another one with an identical puppet take over on a different part of the stage. While cast members do some backflipping and acrobatics, the biggest wows come not from shows of physical prowess but of coordination, such as when six people holding up logs to represent the trees of a spooky forest switch places in the blink of an eye.

Brandon Markel Holmes as Jimmy with back up singers Christine Mayland Perkins, Kara Davidson, Ericka Ratcliff and Tamara White

The ensemble also manages to get through plenty of emotion with few lines, whether it’s the grim determination of shoveling their town after yet another night of snow or the ecstatic catharsis of stripping off their many layers of clothing. Not everything they do works as well, but the overall effect is mesmerizing.

Paige Collins as Rose with ensemble in THE ROSE AND THE RIME by The House Theatre of Chicago.Collette Pollard’s sets add to the magic, with tiny, snow-coated homes positioned on pillars that the ensemble can pick up and move to represent the town retreating in the distance. A placid view of snow falling through a window opens into the witch’s lair, where Melissa Torchia’s billowing costume and wirework combined with Ericka Ratcliff’s dark and icy Rime Witch make Rose’s enemy seem to be a truly larger-than-life threat.

There’s plenty here to delight young viewers, with multiple musical numbers, bubbles, hot dogs chucked into the audience and so much confetti that the first rows are bound to walk away coated in the stuff. But viewers of all ages can enjoy coming out of the cold for a play that mixes dreams of summer with the message that happiness can still exist even during a seemingly endless winter.

Paige Collins as Rose in THE ROSE AND THE RIME by The House Theatre of Chicago.photos by Michael Brosilow

Rose and the Rime
The House Theatre of Chicago
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division
scheduled to end on March 9, 2014
EXTENDED through March 23, 2014
for tickets, call 773.769.3832
or visit www.TheHouseTheatre.com

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