Sidewalk Stories | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sidewalk Stories

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Disarming in the simplicity and sentimentality of its basic conception, this mainly silent black-and-white comedy reworks the basic coordinates of Charlie Chaplin's The Kid in terms of the homeless in contemporary lower Manhattan. Written, directed, produced by, and starring Charles Lane, the movie focuses on a young black sidewalk portrait artist who finds himself caring for a two-year-old girl after her father is murdered in an alley. The comparisons provoked by Lane between himself and Chaplin are not always fortunate; in spite of his obvious talent and sincerity, the filmmaker-performer doesn't come across as any sort of genius. It's just as clear that 1921, the year of The Kid, is not 1989; the gags tend to be both more modest and less plentiful, and the characters are even simpler than Chaplin's. Nevertheless, Lane's conceit is handled with such unassuming sweetness and charm that it never comes across as presumptuous or pretentious, and the simple authority of his conclusion--which uses dialogue in order to point out what most of us refuse to hear when we're walking down the street--is unimpeachable. One should also credit Marc Marder with a memorable jaunty score that subtly enhances the pantomime without belaboring it. With Nicole Alysia, Sandye Wilson, and Darnell Williams. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, January 5 through 11)

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