Sunjata | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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About seven years ago the French shadow puppeteer team of Luc Amoros and Michele Augustin approached Werewere Liking, head of the Ivory Coast-based Ki-Yi M'Bock Theatre, about a collaborative puppet show re-creating the ancient African legend of Sunjata, the Lion King. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle that incorporates elements of southeast Asian shadow theater with West African tribal dance and music. Amoros and Augustin often use dramatic techniques straight out of the movies: silhouettes tremble and expand until they fill the entire screen, a battle scene ends in slow motion as a spear is driven into an enemy's heart, the mouths of spidery-limbed characters billow up when they talk. The postures and gestures of the life-size silk puppets of Sunjata convey the characters' dispositions. Sunjata, the paralytic son of a lion father and water buffalo mother, is bent sideways but moves with sturdy determination and speaks in a low, resonant voice. His father's evil first wife, who dispatches Sunjata into exile, is a screecher always in agitated motion. Liking's text, written in five languages, is concise and symbolic, meant to appeal to kids and adults alike. A pioneer of pan-African expressionism whose 80-member collective mounts productions that adhere to African traditions, she has retained the immediacy and simplicity of a tribal myth told around a campfire. Crucial is the throbbing, percussive music (on bongo drums and synthesizer), which heightens the suspense and the sense of communal outcry for justice and redemption. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport, 722-5463 or 902-1500. Opens Thursday, September 26, 7:30 PM. Through September 28: Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM. $19-$30.

--Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Frisan.

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