The Winter Wolf is so delightful, with its infinite capacity for wonder | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The Winter Wolf is so delightful, with its infinite capacity for wonder

Otherworld Theatre presents a cozy, nourishing holiday story.

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With his original 70-minute Christmas "fairytale play," Joseph Zettelmaier takes a stab at creating a new family-friendly holiday classic, and director Lauren Nicole Fields makes a concerted effort to up the Hallmark coziness of the surroundings. Audience members can sit on big, comfy sofas, ensconced amid a half dozen tastefully decorated artificial Christmas trees, and listen to Grandfather tell young Cora the legend of the Winter Wolf while sipping hot cocoa on Christmas Eve. Depending on your tolerance for holiday feel-goodism, you'll either roll your eyes at the shameless pandering or snuggle up to the theatrical equivalent of comfort food.

Certainly, this Otherworld Theatre premiere offers its fair share of nourishment in the form of folkloric mysticism. The eponymous character, a pathetic animal spirit who hunts for humans standing on the brink of death, is an ingenious invention that feels both ancient and contemporary, and Shariba Rivers, manipulating an oddly suitcase-like puppet version of the creature, breathes just the right combination of solemnity and playfulness into the proceedings. And as Cora and Grandfather, Molly Southgate and Mike Rogalski find exquisite chemistry. While Zettelmaier's Twilight Zone-esque tale is ultimately a bit slight, it holds a certain genuine wonderment.

Speaking of wonderment, we were informed during an opening-night curtain speech that Otherworld Theatre is the only theatrical venue "in the world" dedicated to fantasy and science fiction, making me quite intrigued to see the company's enormous compendium of every performance space on the planet.   v

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