Review: Cicada Summer (Rough House Theater)

| September 2, 2017

Jessie Ellingsen stars as May in Cicada Summer, Rough House Theater, puppets designed by Emily Breyer            


Cicada Summer

Written by Claire Saxe
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
thru Sept 30  |  tix: $20  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


World premiere a beautiful piece of breathing, visual art


Jessie Ellingsen stars as May with Puppeteer Hannah Larson and Puppet by Emily Breyer, Cicada Summer

Rough House Theater presents
Cicada Summer: 
A Coming-of-Age Interspecies Romance Tragedy

Review by Lauren Whalen

The best coming-of-age stories are at once universal and unique. Adolescents experience many of the same feelings in very different situations, and strong stories are adept at conveying both. Rough House Theater Company specializes in physical theater and puppetry, and their world premiere of Cicada Summer seamlessly fuses both with a sweet coming-of-age tale involving thirteen-year-old May and her unlikely first love. Cicada Summer is poignant, distinctive and memorable, a lovely way to close the summer Peter Andersen stars as Benjamin, with puppeteers Kathleen Hoil, Hannah Larson, and Noah Appelbaum in Cicada Summertheater season.

If you live in the Midwest, you know very well the chirp of cicadas and the crunchy feel of their shells and bodies on grass and concrete. According to Jeremy Kazan’s dramaturgical notes, cicadas appear in broods that return after absences of either thirteen or seventeen years. “For cicadas and humans,” Kazan writes, “it is ultimately the driving force of nature that spurs development, change, and maturity and not all will survive or successfully make the journey.” May (Jessie Ellingsen) is longing to escape her urban home and live with her bohemian aunt, and her once-simple relationship with best friend Benjamin (Peter Anderson) is growing more complicated by the day. When May falls in love with a cicada, everything changes and her entire world spins on its axis.

The cicadas are played by a quartet of actors (Noah Appelbaum, Kat Christensen, Kathleen Hoil and Hannah Larson) who, through Mike Oleon’s intuitive puppet direction, effortlessly blend movement and puppet work to give a haunting, eerie vibe. The theme of metamorphosis in the human and animal worlds is lovingly carried through the hour-long running time without beating the audience over the head, underscored by Corey Smith’s weird and beautiful sound design. Claire Saxe’s script feels like a long form, free verse poem – my only critique is that, at times, May and Benjamin seem much younger than thirteen.

Peter Andersen stars as Benjamin, with puppeteers Hannah Larson, Noah Appelbaum and Kat ChristensenJessie Ellingsen stars as May, with  puppeteers Noah Appelbaum and Kat Christensen in Cicada Summer

Director Michael Brown runs the MFA in European Devised Performance program at Columbia College Chicago, and puppet and scenic designer Emily Breyer has worked with both House Theatre and Chicago Children’s Theatre. Both artist’s impressive resumes are on full display in Cicada Summer, where the puppets (and the actors behind them) seamlessly interact with the human characters and create believable relationships. May wants to escape, whereas Benjamin wants to disappear, and the cicadas fulfill these wishes in their own ways, while cautioning the newly-minted teens to be careful what they wish for. Both scenic and puppet design are simple on the surface, with increasing complexities that can be seen as the story progresses. Even Maddy Low’s costume design for the cicada actors at first appears monochromatic, but as the play goes on is revealed to be layered and complex. The actors portraying the cicadas give impressive and nuanced performances, moving well and maneuvering their puppets with ease, and both Ellingsen and Anderson, as the human characters, are believable as adolescents on the cusp of change.

Cicada Summer could have been a mess of heavy-handed storytelling and overdone puppet work. Instead, it’s subtle and sweet: a love letter to the one summer everyone has as a young teen, with a nice parallel to glorious, destructive nature. Cicada Summer is a true team effort of movement and puppetry that results in a lovely piece of breathing visual art.

Rating: ★★★½

Cicada Summer continues through September 30th at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm.  General admission tickets are $20, and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 1 hour, no intermission. Recommended for mature audiences.)

Jessie Ellingsen stars as May in Cicada Summer, Rough House Theater, puppets designed by Emily BreyerPuppeteers Noah Appelbaum and Kat Christensen with puppets designed by Emily Breyer in Cicada Summer




Peter Anderson (Benjamin), Noah Appelbaum (Bug, Ensemble), Kat Christensen (Bug, Ensemble), Jessie Ellingsen (May), Kathleen Hoil (Bug, Ensemble), Hannah Larson (Bug, Ensemble)

behind the scenes

Michael Brown (director), Mike Oleon (puppet direction), Emily Breyer (puppet design, scenic design), Jay Epps (stage manager), Corey Smith (sound design), Jeremy Kazan (dramaturg), Maddy Low (costume design), Michael Rathbun (lighting design), Jake Engram (asst. lighting design), Warren Wernick (scenic engineer), Niki Dreistadt, Odessa Glaza, Jackey Kelsey, Nicole Nienow, Kevin Wesson (puppet builders)

Cicada Summer presented by Rough House Theater at Chopin Theatre Chicago


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2017 Reviews, Chopin Theatre, Lawrence Bommer, New Work, Puppetry, Rough House Theater, Video, World Premier, YouTube

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Comments are closed.