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Review: Bellboys, Bears and Baggage (Redmoon)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Bellboys, Bears and Baggage (Redmoon)   
Bellboys, Bears and Baggage

Conceived by Blake Montgomery and Jim Lasko
Directed by Blake Montgomery
at Redmoon Theatre, 2120 S. Jefferson (map)
thru June 8  |  tickets: $30   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read review



Bizarre, bewitching and bold


Review: Bellboys, Bears and Baggage (Redmoon)


Redmoon presents


Bellboys, Bears and Baggage

Review by Clint May 

Like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books you may have read as a kid, you have some options: continue reading this review with the biggest spoiler alert I’ve yet given, or give in to a sense of adventure and explore this one without much foreknowledge. Scary, I know, but I can honestly say the more unprepared you are for this journey, the more interesting it will be. It’s a journey unlike any other I’ve ever taken in a decade of Chicago theatre, one for which the synopsis only mildly prepared me. Immersive theater I’ve done, but nothing to this massive scale and staggering level of craftsmanship.  It reminded me of Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus exhibit—part installation art, part performance art, and utterly surreal.

Review: Bellboys, Bears and Baggage (Redmoon)
If you’re still reading, you’ve decided you want more explanation of what Redmoon’s Bellboys, Bears, and Baggage is all about before you plunk down money on a ticket.

Alright, I’ll do my best. But I still say you’re better off just going in with an open mind.

“Dreamlike” is a word I’ve coincidentally had to use for several recent reviews, but it applies no more aptly than here. But whose dream? Conceived by Jim Lasko and Director Blake Montgomery, each experience will differ in the details, so I’m only going to sketch the larger picture as best I can.

Like a haunted house attraction in an amusement park, small groups enter from a lounge in timed processions according to a luggage tag that is also the ticket. Each group is further winnowed down to 5 minute entrances by a bellhop to ensure that the production is never overwhelmed given that we are totally free to wander whither we will upon entering.

True to the title, there are bellboys (and bellgirls) throughout the massive—still relatively new—17,000 square foot Redmoon space (incidentally making this their largest spectacle to date). They do some ushering, participate in vignettes, and hold flashlights over scenes as impromptu lighting. Men and women in identical wigs and East Coast yuppie outfitting wear eerie wooden masks revealing only their eyes. Of course, there are also several bears cavorting about. Inside one of many rooms marked variously “The Intonation Room” or “The Absolution Room” among others, these three sets of characters enter in myriad combinations and perform various scenelets. They occur in several places at the same time, and like a dream there is a constant aching sense of enigmatic things happening just outside the periphery of perception. A wisp of music on a record player rooms away, the sound of clattering silverware on a floor, a bear chasing someone out a door. Shakespeare himself presides over all, and his famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy provides the labyrinthine entrance to the main floor of the production. Despite that, the inspiration for the bear and the baggage (always allegorical of the emotional variety) and the story—such as it is—is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-performed works, The Winter’s Tale. Allusions to the play abound in the setpieces and thematic overtones.

Review: Bellboys, Bears and Baggage (Redmoon)

And what a set it is. Designed by Frank Maugeri and a massive team, each room off the main “common” area is a unique creation with the moody atmosphere of a Quay Brothers movie. A croquet game, a kitchen, a chapel, a forest picnic—each becomes a stage for several wordless tableaux. The bellpersons do speak (“What is your final destination?” one asked me in hushed tones as I watched. “The same as everyone else’s.” I replied.) The several sets of “couples”—who would have names like Buffy and Beauregard if they were real persons—move about like clockwork figures, an almost ineffable internal mechanism driving their actions as they interweave within the spectators. They mime coyness and pursuit, love and loss. It takes about 90 minutes for them to ‘reset,’ but you can stay longer to view the action from other perspectives. An ever present scent of frankincense usually reserved for Catholic churches pervades all, further enhancing the overarching sense of liminality.

What makes immersion theater difficult for some is the onus of self-determination. The subtle themes of love, loss and regret require that we really focus and piece together what we witness without the aid of a linear narrative. You’re fully permitted to interact with the set. Open a drawer or flip through journals to find hidden love notes and scrawled journal entries. There’s even a sort of scavenger hunt to unlock a hidden upstairs room. The trick is you must open yourself to the experience first. Fans of David Lynch or Charlie Kaufman are already well-suited for the trip.

Able to illicit a sense of wonder in the mind—if not the heart,—the Redmoon team deserves praise for its audacity alone. To quote the bard, “If this be magic, let it be art.” Bellboys, Bears, and Baggage is both.


Rating: ★★★½



Bellboys, Bears and Baggage continues through June 8th at Redmoon Theatre, 2120 S. Jefferson (map).  Audiences enter every half hour, 7-9pm Thursdays, 7-11pm Fridays and Saturdays, 6-8pm Sundays.  Tickets are $30 ($25 groups of 10 or more, $15 students), and are available by phone (312-850-8440 x123) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 90-120 minutes, depending on personal preferences)

Review: Bellboys, Bears and Baggage (Redmoon)

Photos by Al Zayed



Mask ensemble

Victoria Blade, Eleanor Caudill, Jay Cullen, Annick Dall, Adam Griffin, Jude Hansen, Victor Holstein, Laura Korn, Benjamin Lapean, Ali McLaughlin, Colin Morgan, Kate Smith

Bellboys and Bears

Amy Leigh Abelson, Christian Anderson, Caitlin Boho, Rachel Copel, Allegra Denes, Laura Elleseg, Alison Fleschner, Cooper Forsman, Nicole Jordan, Sonja Lynn Mata, Drew McCubbin, Glenn Potter, Brian Scannell, Emma Sharp, Nick Strauss, Tara Tisch-Wallace.

behind the scenes

Blake Montgomery (director, mask sculpture), Frank Maugeri (designer and art director), Will Bishop (producer), Shawn Ketchum Johnson (technical scenic design), John Kelly (lighting design),  Jeff Glass (lighting design consulting), Mieka Van Der Ploeg (costume design), Liviu Pasare (video design), Emily Breyer (aesthetic design), Andrew Rovner (sound dngineering), Coco Ree Lemery (scenic art), Jeff Thomas (music curator), Justin I. Mitchell (Baby, All the way around Creator), Mieka van der Ploeg (bellboy and masked character costume design), Carrie Ahaus (mask painting), Katie Springmann (scenic artist assistant), Katie Spelman (choreographer), Trina McGee (assistant director, stage manager), Katrina Dion (assistant stage manager), Justin Hart, Norman Teague (master carpenters), Eric Engleson, William Fitzpatrick, Max Freidlander-Moore, Caswell James, Henri LaBranche, Andres Lemus-Spont, Nic Meier, Eric Robinson, Frank Schuford, Darryl Spivey, Newton Wellington (carpenters), Andy Crist, Dagmara Kokonas (installation artists), Matt Roben (rigging), Jackie Valdez, Trevor Williams (aesthetics), Katie Springman (painting), Kristof Janezic (master electrician), Janelle Boudraeu, Cypress Staelin, Michael Trudeau (lighting), Al Zayed (photos), Evan Barr, Kelly Butler, Chris Lafferty, Stephen Lieto, Eric Robinson (Redmoon crew), Ellie Terrell (emerging artists director), Elizabeth Adams, Sean Estelle, Justin Gist, Michael Lally, Haeji Lee, Grace Roh (emerging artists interns)


Light Towers: conceived by Jim Lasko and Frank Maugeri, built by Zach Perrault
Cart: concieved by Jim Lasko, built by Bill Tellman
Piano Bar: concieved by Frank Maugeri, built by Jim Brenner

Review: Bellboys, Bears and Baggage (Redmoon)


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