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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Griffin’s Tale

Now, dear reader, as I have told you many times before and will, all being well, tell you many times to come, I am a curmudgeon of the first order. Children have never been my strong suit (not even when I was child) and my natural dim view of them often has led me to bitterly remark, despite all evidence and reports to the contrary, that the care and brilliance that goes into making Theater for Young Audiences are wasted on the young.

Therefore, my annual participations in the Griffin’s Tale shows function as my personal Dantesque Purgatory. At firsts it’s quite torturous, what with all that screaming and dashing and eye pocking and asking us if we’ve seen the tiger when it’s standing right behind you! Your inability to heed our pointing fingers drives me up the wall! I know its a schtick but it drives me up the waaaaall! Yet by the end of the night I am filled with rapture and peace and have become a slightly better person.

For those who may not know: Griffin's Tale is a Northwestern student organization of largely theater students who go into Chicago Elementary Schools and ask students to write short plays on whatever topic they choose. The scripts are written and received, and the ensemble stage those plays with music and costume and a large dose of hijinx and take them back to the schools to be performed for the authors and their classmates. It’s wonderful to see what minds so young can invent: tales of friendships ending or families coming together, or cats finding their purpose in life.

Equally touching as these honest, if sometimes nonsensical, stories is the generosity of the ensemble. They do everything in their power to make the story work and appear to have as much fun as human beings were built to bare while doing it. For this past weekend’s performance I was treated to well crafted stories of Sasquatch education, comedies of and about manners, surprisingly touching tales of bathroom weddings, and a moving jive/interpretive dance piece about ghosts having a picnic. Every play was given all the energy needed to put on Zimmerman’s epics or WIlde’s capers. They stories and their courageous performance cheered me to my toes and caught me up in a state of wonder, and that is really all I can ask for an evening of the stage.

Every-dog-jack of the ensemble is worthy of praise (FeBland’s jump-devil-dog-grin and Sonheim’s subtly pitched “we’ve some experimental orange soda. It’s still in tests.”, burn brightly in memory). I will restrict myself to doffing my cap to the five seniors who will shed their brightly colored shirts and mosey on to a wider world. To Mitchell, Budde, Marr, Hefferon and Silverberg: you are great minds to turn such stories and great hearts for carrying out this Mitzvah. When I look at Silverberg trying with all her might, and squashed dignity, to scramble up after falling down an imaginary flight of stairs, or Hefferon giving sass as a six year old, or Budde roll as that invisible cussing tiger across the floor, or Mitchell pound out a ghost jive on the piano, or Marr slip a line and use her error to build another buttress of character, I think: ‘Ah, if ever I am in charge of children, I’d want them to see these actors so they’d know that someone cared about their voices.’ I’d like to offer you all a great-big-fat-wet-n-sloppy kiss (on the hand) in gratitude and farewell. Be well, do good work, and smile when you think on all you’ve accomplished.

I shall wait patiently, pickling comfortably in my curmudgeonly juices, until next year when I hop onto the Griffins Tale again, and come out seeing good in every child and a slightly better man myself.

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