That’s Weird, Grandma: Winter Matinees
Midway through the series of kid-inspired sketches performed recently at "That's Weird, Grandma," the Barrel of Monkeys troupe offers the audience a unique insight into their mission. Humorously presented in the style of a '50s educational film, the audience is informed that Barrel of Monkeys conducts writing workshops with school-age children, then takes the students' original stories and develops them into sketches. "Kids write 'em, we do 'em, world saved!" Just not any Communist children.
Barrel of Monkeys' noble mission and the charm of imaginative sketches that could only spring from the minds of young children drew me back to see another production of "That's Weird, Grandma," after seeing their holiday version back in December. I was pleased to see that there were several new sketches on the program; at each performance, the audience is allowed to vote on both favorites and least favorites, thus allowing new pieces to rotate onto the roster. Additionally, there were some different performers taking the stage, giving new life to the three pieces that evening that I had seen before. In this way, each and every performance of "That's Weird, Grandma" is unique and fresh.
Samuel "Mandark" B., of Harold Washington Elementary, argues the merits of eating "yucky pig intestines" in "Chitterlings." Once you hear his logic, and see it made live, you may find it difficult to counter-argue this fifth grader.
Tyrek H. writes about a wily cat in "The Cat and the Doll." Anyone who knows cats knows how much they hate baths, but this cat gets truly creative in outwitting his owner and staying out of the tub.
"Magic Waters" by Jocelyn M. tells the tale of a family visit to a water park. Every kind of pool is here, "like tall, small, big and dark."
"The Ghost Story of the Old Time Country" was co-written by Devion P. and Darrin J. Together, they came up with the tale of "a dad, a brother and another brother."
"Oh Chocolate Pie," by Zara A. takes place in a refrigerator. A chocolate pie, past its eat-by date, must compete with a bunch of carrots for the attention of the housekeeper. Who will win?
Gennie H. of Brenneman Elementary takes a bold stand in "I Think People Should Not Kiss." Protesters line up before the audience to argue her point, though a surprise twist does reveal a more grown-up influence.
Lazaireus P. wrote "Not So Much Pressure" about Batman, who struggles with the pressure of "saving the world every day." The piece was enhanced by an original song by Nicholas Hart.
"When I Was Just a Little Girl" was written by Princess M. of New Sullivan Elementary about how "mama used to tuck me into bed." Princess will "slay my own dragon" and not "be like Cinderella wanting somebody to come and set me free."
Parianna B. wrote "The Girl Who Had a Monkey" about a woman named Sady. Sady and her monkey go everywhere together, including the movies. Not even a famous rapper boyfriend can interfere with Sady's and her monkey's bond.
"How the Sun Got to Space," by Angela C. offers a theory about the relationship between the sun and the moon, and how the sun "left his house to search space." The performers combined this interstellar romance with Kabuki-theater influences.
James H. of Paderewski Elementary gives us "The King of All Lunch." Broccoli and milk, "the most disgusting lunch of all," is banished by the powerful king, who punishes offending lunch ladies in the process.
Barrel of Monkeys' workshops invites children to write tales in their native tongue, and so the evening gave us two Spanish-language pieces. "Bicycletta Grande" by Aryton G. gives us the story of Perceo, who buys a small bicycle and gets a giant tire for it. Kasandra P.'s "La Bailaraina Del Salon" gives us Maria, a ballerina who twists her foot, but is blessed by the kindest and most generous of teachers.
The evening also held three pieces from my last attendance. "The Seven Penguins Adventure," written by a group of children from Henry Tuder Elementary, is about a cluster of hungry Plutonian penguins. Shonell P.'s "Shooting Star" tells the tale of a little boy missing his dead mother. And Dionta S.'s "The Time We Had a Snowball Fight" shows us just how entertaining and creative our Barrel of Monkeys troupe really is, as a "kid war" of a snowball fight is set to music and practically danced before us.
I could talk language and narrative, interpretation and execution here, but in keeping with the funny and often poignant simplicity of the pieces, and of the mission of Barrel of Monkeys, I'll keep my recommendations clear and brief.
Kids write 'em.
Barrel of Monkeys does 'em.
Audience shows up to support 'em.
(From Communists, that is).
"That's Weird, Grandma-Winter Matinees" runs through March 30 at the Neo-Futurist Theater at 5153 N Ashland Ave in Chicago; Monday night performances resume March 2. For information or tickets, call 312-409-1954 or visit www.barrelofmonkeys.org.