Open Circle Theatre’s latest is pedigreed theater, if nothing else: Working from improv techniques advanced by Paul Sills (a co-founder of Chicago’s famed Second City troupe), they’re staging Sills’ Tony-nominated early-’70s piece Story Theatre—essentially a string of fables and fairy tales from Aesop and the Brothers Grimm, told inside a framing device that (this time) strands a motley group of natural-disaster survivors in an isolated, frightening no man’s land.
And so the stories—familiar and less so, about plucky peasants and robber bridegrooms, falling skies and golden geese—become less a homey bedtime routine than a panicky, organic effort at calming kids, finding community, soothing nerves, lifting spirits, and explaining the inexplicable.
Or that’s the goal, anyway; when I saw it, the framing story seemed a touch underdeveloped, or at least underemphasized (perhaps because of design-budget constraints). That’ll pose few problems for younger audiences, though it may leave some adults wondering if they missed a beat.
Still, grown-ups can occupy themselves around the edges, watching for ironies, in-jokes, and added resonances in the characteristically inventive way Open Circle’s company integrates sign, song, and movement as it tells its timeless, deceptively simple tales.