By Christian Stokes and The Forks & Hope Ensemble.
Directed by Aileen McGroddy.
Produced by The Forks & Hope Ensemble.
Playing at The Frontier, Chicago.
A Hero’s Journey Can Be Quite Convoluted.
The Forks & Hope Ensemble are a relatively new group dedicated to devising and adapting works suitable for all ages. Their latest offering, A Hero’s Journey is a strange, but oddly touching piece, in which each of the six performers combine one of their favorite stories from mythology or folk tales with episodes from their own lives. The program notes claim that the form of the piece is modeled on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, although it’s unclear in performance how, exactly, that is. (Of course, some would say the patterns in Campbell’s work are forced, as well.)
Though the Frontier is a difficult space to use, director Aileen McGroddy’s design team (some of whom double as actors) have done a beautiful job with it. Covered in sheets and fairy lights, the stage looks both like a child’s room and a gateway to the world of imagination. The ensemble picked a very eclectic group of myths to identify with, ranging from classical Greek figures to the historical King Sejong of Korea. Errol McLendon, the oldest member of the cast, sees himself in Odysseus, and his reason for that selection is the most thoroughly explained, and therefore, the most moving. Other cast members assert connections to characters that are unclear or don’t have the same apparent resonance with their own lives (in which not nearly as much has happened). Josh Mattingly’s identification with Sejong is mainly about wishing he could be someone so accomplished, instead of feeling like he’s waiting for his life to start, and that’s an easy thing for most young people to sympathize with.
The show is only an hour long, which means that with six different stories to tell, it doesn’t linger on any of them for very long. That’s a major part of why it doesn’t go into most of them deeply enough to even explain how they’re connected, but it also keeps the show within a reasonable length for children, which the group says is one of their core goals. For the low price of admission, A Hero’s Journey is a reasonable choice for a family outing. Though the Campbell-style comparative mythology and personal connection aspects of the piece flounder, the stories themselves are told well enough.
Playing at The Frontier, 1106 W Thorndale, Chicago. Tickets are $15. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm through August 21. Running time is one hour.