Gianni, Jan, John... | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Gianni, Jan, John...

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World-class European theater can raise the ire of unsung local directors, who are often heard grumbling after a blistering international performance, "Well, sure, if my theater were state funded..." Let's hope those cranks stay away from the 3/4 Theatre-Zusno's thrilling puppet cabaret Gianni, Jan, John.... They might never recover. Founded in 1992 by Krzysztof Rau, then managing director of the Bialystok Puppet Theatre, the 3/4 Theatre-Zusno is Poland's first private theater company. Yet their expertise rivals any of the world's great nationally bankrolled troupes. They twist their bare hands--and occasionally their feet--into some of the most graceful, ingenious, and expressive puppets imaginable, bringing them to life with such care and precision that even their tiniest gestures speak volumes. Gianni is an existential everyman who rises from infancy to become a godlike figure, dismantling and rearranging sections of the earth hoping that new combinations will produce something other than gunfire. The five performers' bare hands create peculiar permutations of the title character--my favorite being a surgeon so hell-bent on completing an operation that he lops off his patient's head and feet because they get in his way. In one of several delightful surrealistic effects, the head of a bombastic public official turns into a pair of clapping hands applauding his own eloquence. This production, which runs just over an hour, literally offers a thrill a minute. Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 235-2028. Through January 22: Thursday, 7 PM; Saturday-Sunday, 4 PM. $15.

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