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Animal Lovers' Project

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Animal Lovers' Project, Hundredth Monkey, at the Theatre Building Chicago, through December 1. This string of multimedia vignettes by Hundredth Monkey and artistic director Jesse Richards celebrates and mourns various interactions between animals and humans. Videotaped interviews with animal caretakers--pet rescuers, global conservationists, even a psychic--anchor the production while songs, percussion, and interpretive dance played out in front of the giant screen extend the show's scope: we understand the despair of an elephant doomed to captivity and feel the otherworldly peace of being surrounded by whirling, chirping grasshoppers.

Naturally, some of the 29 pieces work better than others. When the performers stay connected to the on-screen material, their interactions are visually, aurally, and emotionally effective--the best example being a vocal collaboration between the humans and a pack of 200 wolves. Stand-alone musical numbers and skits--a woman's love song pining for a vegetarian mate, for example--can be clumsy, and some (like Richards's wailing dirge for her dying dog) are self-indulgent. But despite these underdeveloped areas, the evening flows from gut-wrenching to heartwarming to quietly awesome--the show's two hours (no intermission) breeze by. This is a natural for cause sympathizers. And even though folksy music, modern dance, and overt activism may not be the quickest routes to mainstream acceptance, it's also a provocative form of public outreach to those as yet uninvolved.

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