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The Ballad of Frankie and Johnny

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THE BALLAD OF FRANKIE AND JOHNNY, Redmoon Theater, at Steppenwolf Studio Theatre. There used to be a sweet ragtag innocence about Redmoon. The puppets looked hastily assembled, the costumes as if they were made from hand-me-downs. The sets seemed so flimsy you wondered how they survived a performance. But the shows were real and wonderful. Now Redmoon is a big deal, with a board of directors, a list of gratefully acknowledged benefactors, and lots of grants. The sets are sturdy and impressive, and the eye-pleasing costumes seem to have been made of the finest cloth available.

But unfortunately the gassy pretension that threatened Redmoon's last production, Frankenstein, has also overwhelmed its current effort: a 90-minute retelling of the classic song "Frankie and Johnny," recast as "noir cabaret" (as in Frankenstein, major characters are played by both actors and puppets). This production has flashes of brilliance--as when the puppet versions of Frankie and Johnny meet and their clothing gets snarled together. But these moments are surrounded by endlessly tedious scenes. Most annoying of all is a repeating bit in which a Puck-like clown resorts to all kinds of verbal and physical tricks to get us to guess the title of the next sequence in the four-part show but never manages to be either funny or clever.

This is art with a capital F. There may be ten honest and moving minutes in the whole mess.

--Jack Helbig

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