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The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn


the strange tree group
The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn

Directed by Thrisa Hodits

Produced by The Strange Tree Group

At Signal Ensemble Theatre, Chicago

Quirky, funny, and imaginative time travel comedy a summer delight

The Strange Tree Group usually does works by Emily Schwartz but the have expanded by mounting a new work by ensemble member Elizabeth Bagby – The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn. Featuring a clever set (designed by Kate Nawrocki & Emily Schwatz) with a terrific “time machine” designed by Emily Schwartz,etc,  The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn is a quirky, funny , and clever take on time travel and it’s complications.

the strange tree group

Set in 1929 at the funeral of family patriarch Joesph Mendelssohn (Joseph Stearns), we meet all the players including Theo (Stuart Ritter) who has invented a time machine. He believes he can change the past, alter the future, and find true love along the way. he also thinks he can bring back the dead. He theorizes that if he can go back 20 years to 1908 and stop his mother from abandoning the Mendelssohn family, he will prevent his father’s second marriage and the birth of his doomed half-brother Nicholas (Brandon Ruiter). Of course, Nicholas is against the  effort since he’ll be ended of sorts?

the strange tree group

This fast-paced and wildly game production is nicely structured and well played. The low budget effects work to establish the time machine’s effects as we are transported back to 1908 and back and forth until the efforts get confused and weird.  Trying to set things right while falling in love with other people’s mothers sure causes mischief and mayhem. The journey is a quirky delight. Playwright Elizabeth Bagby has created a most empathetic cast with whom we deeply care about. We cheer that things will sort themselves out but we wonder what will happen as things get confused.

The ensemble acting was first class with Stuart Ritter’s Theo and Brandon Ruiter’s Nicholas leading a troupe of comic players. You’d be hard pressed to find a finer technical production with smart surprising and suspenseful action.  The Strange Tree Group is know for their unique aesthetic that includes deft use of magical realism with doses of audience-interactive elements designed to tell refreshingly interesting stories. Bagby’s The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn continues that tradition.  This show is a summer treat!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: June 23, 2013

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn page at

At Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W.Bernice Ave., Chicago, IL,, tickets $25, $15 students/industry,  Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes with intermission, through July 20, 2013

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