TUTA’s “The Silent Language” Brings a Little Offbeat Charm
A lowly villager. An evil elf. A princess in need of rescuing. All the elements are here for a 90-minute escape into a whimsical fairy tale. And a fairy tale is exactly what TUTA Theatre Chicago attempts with a bit of centuries-old Serbian folklore and a smattering of charm in “The Silent Language.”
TUTA’s gritty urban loft space on the west side isn’t an ideal location, but with a patchwork of drapery covering the walls and various bits of furniture (think steamer trunks and classroom desks) serving as seats for the audience, scenic designer Michelle Lilly transforms the industrial venue into a cozier setting. Also contributing to the offbeat feel of the show is the spot-on lighting from Keith Parham. Hanging lightbulbs and shadowy floor lamps help transform the mood from charming to eerie to — at times — frightening.
The tale’s hero is Poor Gasho (Max Lotspeich), a scruffy young man who doesn’t inspire much confidence in the eyes of the villagers. But thanks to a lucky run-in with a snake queen, he is granted the ability to understand the silent language, allowing him to converse with plants, animals, even the wind. And as every hero needs a defining mission, his is to rescue a beautiful princess (Carolyn Molloy) being held captive by an evil elf (Aaron Lawson). Along the way, he encounters both friends (of the feathered and furry type) and a few more foes — namely the old Ironjaw Hag (Jaimelyn Gray) and a truly creepy Boogeyman (Sean Ewert).
Gasho’s ability to converse with nature helps him out of more than a few scrapes during his journey. But the execution of the “silent language” is, unfortunately, a major weak point in an otherwise imaginatively strong show. While the rest of the characters speak almost lyrically, at times both witty and wise, the animals don’t fare so well. Each sentence is heavily punctuated with various animal noises — the geese honk, the birds tweet — making it difficult to pay attention to what they‘re actually saying. What could’ve been a cute, sparingly used dialogue choice instead becomes simply obnoxious.
Once you get used to the chirping and chattering — as surely Poor Gasho must’ve realized — it’s easier to focus on the task at hand. After help from the animals, he stumbles his way into the elf’s lair, where a motley band is accompanying the princess as she sings. (Wain Parham’s original music is at its best here.) Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these sweet moments to last throughout the play. After a drawn-out fight scene that could’ve been edited down to half and a bland yet fairy tale-worthy happy ending, it’s the visual team that helps elevate the show above its lack of verbal substance. While the show has a rich visual identity and plenty of offbeat personality, it could benefit from a little less chatter and a little more wordplay.
“The Silent Language” runs through May 19 at TUTA Studio Theatre (2010 W. Fulton Ave.) on Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. All tickets are a suggested donation of $15-$25 and are available at brownpapertickets.com or by phone at (800)-838-3006. For calendar information visit www.TheatreInChicago.com