Culture Magazine

Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie Du Hanneton)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie du Hanneton)

As baffling as it is beautiful

Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie du Hanneton)

Review by Catey Sullivan

For the opening of The Yard - Chicago Shakespeare's magnificently flexible new space on Navy Pier - the theater has programmed a short (only five days) run of a production that is as baffling as it is beautiful.

The story of The Toad Knew - if there is one - is left to the audience to create within their own minds. The performers - a quintet starring creator James Thierrée - are a group of dancers/acrobats/vocalists/musicians. Produced by Thierree's Compagnie du Hanneton, The Toad Knew is a dissonant, harmonious, jangling, flickering, non-linear, moving collage threaded through with a pastiche of French, English and gibberish.

Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie du Hanneton)

If you're looking for a cohesive narrative, is not your jam. If you are looking for meaning within the title (the toad inexplicably replacing the frog from the original French title of "La Grenouille avait raison"), that too is open to infinite interpretation. The Toad Knew never reveals what the toad knew. Or why it may be important. Creator/star/ composer/scenographer Thierree is not inclined toward answers or narrative or traditional characters.

Instead, the grandson of Charlie Chaplin and the great-grandson of Eugene O'Neill presents audiences with an inscrutable, idiosyncratic, often intriguing but also repetitive barrage of elaborate sounds and visuals. His performers move with a herky-jerky jerky grace that calls to mind Linda Blair in "The Exorcist," the ground-breaking dances of Rite of Spring-era Vaslav Najinsky, the opening vaudevillian gambits of Waiting for Godot and the contortionism of elite circus performers.

The cast performs aerial feats, dangling from thickets of cables strung almost as thick as hair over the stage. They tumble with the verve of Olympic gymnasts. They are surrounded by a forest of simmering metallic curtains and jungle of massive, clanking lily-pad shaped plates that rise and fall through the air. There is a piano with a mind of its own. There is a battalion of silver dishes that crash and scuttle like living creatures. There is a water tank reminiscent of Houdini escape trick, where a performer remains submerged for what feels like a lethal length of time. There are arms and heads that detach from their bodies and bodies that become impossibly stuck together, limbs entwined like Gordian knots.

Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie du Hanneton)
Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie du Hanneton)
Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie du Hanneton)

Throughout, there is a shape-shifting vocalist in a cape the color of blood. As she croons in a language that is sometimes and sometimes not intelligible, Thierree's group of pranksters fill the stage with their unique brand of intense physicality and often inscrutable interactions. It's a strange brew of clowning and performance art and art installation. It feels like a hallucination.

The grace and physical prowess of his cast is undeniable. Sonia 'Sonya' Bel Hadj Brahim, Samuel Dutertre, Ofélie Crispin, Hervé Lassïnce and Thi Mai Nguyen have limbs with the flexibility of water, and a playful sense of camaraderie that shines through even during moments of comedic combat.

Review: The Toad Knew (Compagnie du Hanneton)

Still, The Toad Knew is confounding. Amid the beauty and the skill and the innovation, there is room for frustration for those craving traditional story. Maybe the toad is there all along and you just don't see him or her. Maybe he's the, twinkling crimson creature who shows up in crushed velvet glory in the latter third of the 90 minute piece. And when the great, diaphanous mouth overtakes the stage and all within, all you can do is wonder.

The Toad Knew continues through September 23rd at Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Yard, 800 E. Grand (map). Tickets are $48-$88, and are available by phone (312-595-5600) or online through their website (check for availability of ). More information at (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Photos by Richard Haughton

behind the scenes

James Thierrée (creator, choreographer, scenography, original music), Anthony Nicolas (technical coordination), Thomas Delot (sound design), Alex Hardellet, James Thierree (lighting), Pascaline Chavanne (costumes), Victoria Thierree (puppets), Richard Haughton (photos), Samuel Dutertre, Lorenzo Graouer, Anthony Nicolas (stage managers), Emilie Revel (stage manager and wardrobe), Penelope Biessy, Sidonie Pigeon (assistants to the director), Laura Leonard (assistant to the scenographer)

Tags: 17-0946, Alex Hardellet, Anthony Nicolas, Catey Sullivan, Charlie Chaplin, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Theater, Compagnie du Hanneton, Emilie Revel, Eugene O'Neill, Hervé Lassïnce, James Thierrée, Laura Leonard, Lorenzo Graouer, Ofélie Crispin, Pascaline Chavanne, Penelope Biessy, post, Richard Haughton, Samuel Dutertre, Sidonie Pigeon, Sonia 'Son Ya' Bel Hadj Brahim, Thi Mai Nguyen, Thomas Delot, Victoria Thierree

Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Chicago Shakespeare, The Yard

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog