Chicago’s Redmoon theater certainly knows how to put on a big show. Its annual outdoor “spectacles” feel like theatrical performances that are simply too big to be contained within the walls of a theater, with actors ranging across landscapes in motor vehicles or soaring way above the audience’s head. The latest Redmoon play, Last of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan, which opened this weekend at South Belmont Harbor, is no exception.
Billed as Redmoon’s first “concert,” Last of My Species, is supposedly the U.S. debut of Norwegian singer Laarna Cortaan. It doesn’t take much deduction or detective work to figure out that Cortaan is a fictional character, and the Redmoon folks throw the audience a few knowing winks about this joke. But the show does indeed start out like a concert, with the songs introduced by an emcee speaking in a humorously fake Scandinavian accent. As Laarna sings, an armada of musician/singer/dancer types assembles around her, sometimes pretending to play fake instruments, sometimes holding surreal masks of enlarged faces in front of their heads.
The “concert” comes apart after some technical difficulties (which are part of the show). Cortaan storms off. An ingenue charms the crowd with her simple music. Cortaan storms back. A musical duel ensues. The ingenue engages in a sensual series of acrobatic moves with a man at the top of a ladder.
No, there really isn’t much plot to this show, which is typical of Redmoon spectacles, but it all moves with the logic of a dream. It may not be profound, but Last of My Species does offer a sort of running commentary on the whole experience of going to a concert without resorting to a lot of obvious jokes. And most importantly, it’s consistently entertaining. The music is quite good, including songs in a variety of styles, ranging from properly bombastic prerecorded music to intimate live performances. The sets, costumes and, um, vehicles present a delightfully surreal panorama. The few pieces of dialogue and narration sparkle with humor. And wow, that sequence of acrobatic moves were thrilling to watch.
Once again, Redmoon has inspired me by imagining an improbable theatrical performance and bringing it to life on a huge scale.
Last of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan continues with performances at 7 p.m. Sept. 10, 11, 12 and 13. For details, see www.redmoon.org