In thinking small, the creators of Redmoon Theatre’s “The Cabinet” have devised something larger than is first apparent in this adaptation of the 1919 silent horror film, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” The result is a wholly absorbing puppet show of the most intricate precision—by far one of the strongest productions (puppet or otherwise) in the city right now. The black-and-white original was a freak fest of Expressionism, and director Frank Maugeri and playwright Mickle Maher imbue this production with a similar cinematic feel. The story of a sleepwalking mental patient who is compelled to murder by his diabolical physician is slowly and very carefully told in a voice-over (Colm O’Reilly) that puts you directly inside the mind of this tormented soul. Is it a nightmare or reality? A vicious cycle ensues, in which wakefulness is revealed to be a false sensation; the dreaded sleep continues. As do the murders. It’s a melancholy sort of creepiness that unfolds on two-dimensional sets painted in muddy shades of gray, all contained inside a gloriously hulking cabinet. The puppets—the patient resembling a spindly Edward Scissorhands, the director a corpulent Albert Einstein with shrunken hands—are manipulated by a silent and nimble cast that is visible throughout in costumes that evoke something along the lines of Pilgrim-meets-pilot. The production is eccentric without being tiresome, and unlike Redmoon’s previous, sprawling outdoor spectacles, this show focuses on subtle details—a puppet adjusting his suit jacket, the dark jokes of a pop-up book, the tweezers and medical clamps the puppeteers use to manipulate their prey. There is a very deliberate pace to this show and it has a magnetic effect. “This is the story of my cure,” the voice intones at the start—and while it is anything but, you’re sucked in anyway. (Nina Metz)
Redmoon’s “The Cabinet” plays at The Viaduct Theater, 3111 North Western, (312)850-8440 x111, through May 8.