THE PRAIRIE, at Theatre Building Chicago. In Renee Enna's homespun, heartfelt, but sometimes implausible midwestern version of The Tempest, Prospero--here called Bill--protects some virgin Illinois prairie from his brother, a covetous developer. Bill's companions are his daughter Mary, blinded by the same prairie fire that killed her mother, a bird eager for freedom (Ariel), and a rebellious cat (Caliban). The brother joins forces with the town mayor, whose son falls in love with Mary, and eventually the brothers, separated by 15 years and different lifestyles, find an uneasy peace. The ending is inexplicably tragic: Shakespeare's sense of reconciliation finds no equivalent here. The dour conclusion is all the more incongruous since so much in this production is best suited to kids, like the scenes where the mayor's pet dogs forge an uneasy alliance with the ambitious cat.
Page Hearn's doggedly charming staging suits Mark Adamczyk's serviceable songs and Marianne Kallen's playful lyrics for this unpretentious work in progress. Jeffery A. Ward brings presence to the underwritten role of Bill, whose magic is left too much to the imagination. As the busy bird, Jennifer Marschand reinvents Ariel's spunk, while Daniel Hickey's cat is cutely opportunistic. The ensemble hurl themselves into their flora and fauna--thistles, wild indigo, snakeroot, big bluestems, wasps--with the enthusiasm of ardent naturists.