December 21, 2006

  "The Velveteen Rabbit"


Put "The Velveteen Rabbit" on your to-do list during your kids' winter break from school. You'll get to revisit a favorite childhood story and invite your children to fall in love with Margery Williams' classic tale, which has just been beautifully adapted for the stage at Chicago's Lifeline Theatre by ensemble member Elise Kauzlaric. Now in its 24th season, this quaint theatre, which seats 95, features exposed brick walls that envelope theater goers in intimate quarters. 

As the story goes, a wise old horse, model boat and cranky toy soldier populate the nursery made a bit more crowded by the addition of a velveteen rabbit, who joins them after being discovered in their boy's Christmas stocking. While the others wrestle with jealousy about the newcomer's special place in their boy's heart, the Skin Horse lends a sympathetic ear and mentors his new nursery-mate, who struggles with the question of what it means to be real. "Real isn't how you are made," says the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real."

The performances of this ensemble cast are spot-on. Cheryl Lynn Golemo's naiive and expressive Velveteen Rabbit is charming. Veteran Lifeliner Paul Myers' Skin Horse effectively embodies the warmth and kindly demeanor of Williams' original Skin Horse, who offers sage advice and wisdom to his nursery mates and tenderly refers to the newcomer as "little one." Alice Pacyga fills two roles. She's credible as Nana, the boy's nurse maid, but really shines in the role of an aging Toy Soldier, Sergeant Timothy, who is cranky about aches and pains and especially about being "outranked by a bunny." 

Other real bunnies, played by cast members doing double duty, issue a challenge to their velveteen counterpart that she get up off her velveteen rump and play.  They earn hearty laughs from the audience with their nose-twitching antics.  Also giggle-worthy is the unceremonial handling of the floppy, chubby velveteen rabbit by Nana and the boy.

Youngsters with short attention spans and even their parents will not find it difficult to remain riveted throughout the forty-five minute performance (with no intermission).

The show is best suited to the 5 and over set, but at the tender age of 39, I was the one who audibly gasped when the doctor prescribed that the boy's toys-even The Velveteen Rabbit-were to be burned in an effort to decontaminate the nursery. I gave my armrests a good white-knuckle squeeze and glanced past my entranced 5-year-old daughter to the tyke across the aisle, expecting a full-on wail from one of them. Fortunately for us all, the characters' dialogue swiftly moves past this unhappy plan.

A charming lullaby sung earlier by the boy to his anxious new bunny is made heartbreakingly tender when the now shabby, love-worn Velveteen Rabbit returns the favor in an effort to revive her ailing master. This coming-of-age moment for the bunny is full of promises of the fun they will share when he feels better. This doesn't come to pass, however, as per Doctor's orders the bunny is relegated to the burn pile. While awaiting her fate, the bunny reconnects with the real bunnies who'd challenged her earlier, and, this time, discovers that her pining had not been in vain. She sheds her velveteen veneer and realizes that she is just as real as they are-but not before she learns that becoming real comes at a price.

She hasn't seen the last of her boy, though. On a stroll through the Emerald Glen one fall afternoon, he spots her and wonders why the rabbit is so familiar to him. She recognizes him, however, and understands that she must let him go. While this adaptation does convey the power of hope, I believe it more immediately illustrates the transformative power of loving attachments and necessary losses, a lesson we humans are wont to resist, and which a simple tale filled with nursery toys and frolicking bunnies nudges us to consider. As we exited the theater, I overheard another member of the audience tell her companions, "I was literally tearing up when she said 'Goodbye, my boy.'"

A sweet story and a lump in my throat, well worth the price of admission.  Jennifer DuBose

"The Velveteen Rabbit" runs Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Dec. 16-Feb. 4. Additional holiday matinees at 1 p.m. Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 1-5. Lifeline Theatre. 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. For ticket information and information on other Kidseries performances at Lifeline, call (773) 761-4477 or visit



  "Moscow Cats Theatre"

  With a cast of six clowns, two dogs and 30 cats, the "Moscow Cats Theatre" touts its feline acrobatics show as "the world's only," and (I believe) with good reason: It's not that much fun to watch. Call me catty, but at 50 bucks per ticket (no discount for kids), it sure ought to be.

Yuri Kuklachev is the chief ringmaster, trainer and clown. As creative director of the show, he is kind to the kitties and works hard to keep them on their claws, but this is a fruitless endeavor for anyone who knows the true character of a cat-they just don't aim to please.

We were impressed a few times, like when Kuklachev lifted a cat high above his head while it did a hand (or paw) stand. (An image of this trick is emblazoned on their Web site and posters.) When cats used just their arms to traverse across parallel-bar tubes held by clowns at shoulder height, we nodded politely that it was noteworthy.

But other than these few tricks, there wasn't much happening with the cats during the hour and 15 minute performance, and so it failed to "wow" our family of five. We expected fur to be flying, with cats walking on their front paws or doing flips through the air. Instead, the tricks were tame. The most frequent feat was watching cats be still, either sitting in baskets that glided across high wires or atop bikes ridden by clowns. One feline endured being dressed in a miniature gown and headdress. Depending on the cat's personality, stillness might be a remarkable trick, but the entertainment value is questionable.

Seeing one cat in a remote-controlled car drew a genuine giggle from my son, while seeing the cats push other cats and dogs in baby carriages made my daughter comment, "I always see that." My kids were also worried when the clown threw a stuffed animal cat into the audience, believing it was real. (Activists take note: The clowns were always kind to the animals, even to the most uncooperative of cats.)

The show relied heavily on the clowns. Enter the culture gap-and David Lynch-like movie moments. In one scene, Kuklachev danced with a wooden doll. In another, he drew a caricature of a female audience member while motioning for her to show more bust. Clowns launched giant beach balls out into the audience and an endless volley ensued. The "illegitimate baby and questionable paternity" skit was beyond weird, and the bundle of joy turned out to be a dog. The audience smiled graciously, while inwardly probably thinking, "Huh?"

If your family members are cat fanatics with money to burn, you stand a chance at being amused. Otherwise, decline adding one more charge to the credit card this holiday season. Jill S. Browning

"Moscow Cats Theatre" runs Dec. 26-30. $56.90 or $49.90, depending on seat location. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. (847) 673-6300. Visit for show times and to reserve tickets.


    Let's just say right from the start-this is a movie for kids age 7 to 10, particularly boys. I took a 10-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy, neither of whom have read the book. The book, "Eragon" was famously authored by, Christopher Paolini, a home-schooled teenager, who has a huge readership among older kids. The first thing a 12-year-old boy sitting behind us said loudly after the movie, "That was nothing like how the book was!" I think the producers of "Eragon" are going to hear a lot of that.

Like the book, this movie borrows from a lot of other things: Tolkien, Narnia, Star Wars-parts of it even reminded me of the Matrix series. If you're writing anything about a reluctant 'Chosen One' it is almost impossible not to warm up some clichés, but this movie seems to be made up almost entirely of them, with no real suspense or surprises.

The dragon is by far the best part of the movie. With exquisitely rendered computer generated scales and feathers, bright blue eyes and a wonderful voice provided by Rachel Weitz, she really carries every scene she is in-despite being only a special effect. Some of the other acting is just bad. Pop singer Joss Stone as a seeress is a particular stand-out, obviously only included to try to appeal to tweens.   Other than that, the movie is one long mish-mash of really trite dialog that even talented performers like Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich can't save, rolling landscape vistas that threatened to make me seasick after a while, and a sort of forced multiculturalism that seemed sort of silly and unrealistic even in a fantasy movie.   All three of us voted the villains the worst thing in the movie. With the bad dialog, cheesy special effects and goofy looking make-up, ( ALL bad guys must have super chapped lips and long black fingernails, right?) they  didn't inspire fear so much as a desire to get them some chapstick and a manicure.   With all that said, my son enjoyed this movie the most out of the three of us. Who wouldn't want to ride a dragon that becomes your best friend and speaks to you inside your mind?   Both kids rated it as 'not as good as Narnia' but said that they would be interested in checking out a sequel. It is slightly more intense than the Narnia movie on a scary level. Adults- just let your mind drift through this one and concentrate on mentally checking your holiday lists. Unfortunately, I don't think you'll  have any trouble doing that during Eregon. Bronwyn Wright


   Swaddleaze by 2 Virtue


This swaddle blanket, designed for startle-free sleep, claims to swaddle your baby in womb-like comfort. It worked. The best thing about this product is that I really liked the soft chamois material. Although I enjoyed the softness of the material, it did shed a bit.

I would recommend this product, especially for parents of preemies. I would recommend that the product designers make the flap available on both sides for parents who prefer to swaddle from the left or right side. All in all, I think Swaddleaze is a nifty idea. Maria Seto, Buffalo Grove

Swaddleaze by 2 Virtue, $25,


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