Collaboraction, a company dedicated to revolutionizing live theater, actualizes their goal with the tenth annual Sketchbook X. A mixed media festival, comprised of short plays, live music, and visual art, Sketchbook’s components are, with few exceptions, well-conceived and innovatively directed, fully utilizing the Chopin Theater’s dynamic space.
Perhaps buoyed by the evening’s energetic vibe, most participants deliver strong, focused performances. An unexpected highpoint, the handful of kid actors, most appearing in Larry Grimm’s “When I was…” are restrained rather than cutesy. Chicago stage veteran, Caroline Heffernan, the child narrator of Kristin Idaszak’s “Astronomy for Beginners,” is particularly believable, and always a pleasure to watch.
Other highlights include Jessica Hudson’s subtly unnerving “Spider in the Attic.” Visually arresting and impactful, the short scene appears at first a lightly humorous investigation of change, but morphs into a wrenching look at mortality. Another standout, Cory Tamler’s “Eighty-Four,” smoothly directed by Daniel Stermer, is one of the only pieces to satisfyingly interact with designer Sam Porretta’s versatile environment. Esoteric and witty, it combines Skyping and PowerPoint with live action to relay the story of Eighty-Four, a small town that spontaneously squares itself.
While not every scene realizes its potential, in experimental theater, misfires are expected, even necessary, contributing to the edgy sense of spontaneity for which Sketchbook is known. In the end, while Sketchbook has many strengths, perhaps its greatest is the atmosphere of urgency the show cultivates, the sense that live theater may have a future as vital as its past.