Jungle fever on stage

Lifeline Theatre brings India to life with Kipling’s ‘Just So’ 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. The Lampopo River setting is also aided by the audience members in this interactive adventure.

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.

Performances are 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, through March 26. Tickets are $9 in advance and pay-what-you-can at the door (subject to availability). Running time is 50 minutes. Children under age 2 are not admitted and there is no parking lot, so allow time to find street parking. Lifeline Theatre is located at 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.

For more information, call (773) 761-4477 or visit www.lifelinetheatre.com.

Alena Murguia

Kids Eat Chicago

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