February 2, 2006


 “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi And Other ‘Just So’ Kipling Stories”

Families familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s jungle stories will enjoy Lifeline Theatre’s adaptation, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Other ‘Just So’ Kipling Stories.” The talented four-person ensemble faithfully recreates more than a dozen creatures using dialects, body movement and fantastically intricate wire masks to symbolize various animals. And there’s plenty of audience interaction to keep the kids engaged.

From the start, the actors make direct contact with the audience, asking for help in “creating” India. The three boys in my group were thrilled to trumpet like elephants while other sections of the audience hooted like monkeys and hissed like snakes. Once Tom Jansson (as the Great Djinn) had whipped himself into a jungle frenzy, he brought everyone back into the play with the announcement, “You have made India.”

From there, the play tells the stories of how the elephant got its trunk and how the camel got its hump, along with the title piece, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” The show’s writers have worked hard to stay faithful to Kipling’s language and cadence, giving the production an old-fashioned and poetic feel. But the bright colors, sense of humor and Bollywood-style dance numbers keep the show modern and never overbearing.

The final story is beautifully performed, but also very intense and a little frightening. Even though my sons (ages 3 and 5) knew the “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” story, which is about a mongoose who helps save a colonial family from evil snakes, they were both nervous about the sinister, hissing cobras and the danger faced by the mongoose and his family.

The battle scene is realistically choreographed, giving the boys in the audience a real rush when Nag is body-slammed and bitten to death. Alena Murguia

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Other ‘Just So’ Kipling Stories.” Lifeline Theatre. 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays. Through March 26. No children under age 2. $9 in advance, or pay-what-you-can at the door (subject to availability). 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago. (773) 761-4477. www.lifelinetheatre.com.

Editor’s note: There is no parking lot, so allow time to find street parking.


 "Kasimu & the Coconut Palm"

Kasimu talks back to his parents and fusses when they ask for help. For most children such behavior results in a series of “time outs.” But Kasimu lives in a place where bad boys and girls get turned into cats and don’t ever get to see their mother and father again. Early on in the play, Kasimu is confronted with the consequences of his unruliness by a group of sassy felines. He then he spends the rest of the play running from them and searching for his “Baba” and “Mama.” And, of course, feeling terrible about how he acted.

This play’s storyline might seem overly moralistic but, enveloped in a show full of singing and dancing by skilled young actors, it doesn’t seem heavy-handed at all. The highlights, according to my 5-year-old son Josiah: The cats breaking it down in a hip hop groove, a slick swamp dweller singing the blues and a really talented American Idolish crooner providing gospel interludes. The only boring part? “The talking.”

As an adult, I appreciated the show. It was as entertaining as any kids’ play I’ve seen. The theater that puts on the play, eta Creative Arts Foundation, always infuses African and black cultural pride in their work for children. I think this is important for all children to experience, regardless of their backgrounds.

Also, I like the fact that the actors are actually young themselves. For the second year in a row, my 7-year-old son, DeVonte, has taken singing, dancing and acting classes at eta Creative Arts Foundation. From seeing the play and watching my son work, I know that Runako Jahi, the writer and director of the play, requires commitment and discipline from his actors. He also casts according to talent. Those who can carry a tune, sing. Those who can enunciate a line, act. Those who have rhythm, dance. That is what makes this play a professional production worth seeing. Sarah Karp

“Kasimu and the Coconut Palm.” eta Creative Arts Foundation. 2 p.m. Saturday. Through May 27. Recommended ages 5 and up. $5. 7558 S. South Chicago Avenue, Chicago. (773) 752-3955, www.etacreativearts.org.

Editors note: Shows can sell out, so call ahead for tickets.

Kids Eat Chicago

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