The surprise hit of the year, the House Theatre’s original fable so captivated audiences that its original seven-week sold-out run at the Viaduct Theatre continued on at Steppenwolf for another six-week sold-out extension before being shrewdly picked as a Broadway In Chicago offering at the Apollo Theater for the rest of year, giving those of us who are curious about “The Sparrow” phenomenon a chance to experience it for ourselves. I should say up front that I did not see the original mounting, but it is clear that this would be a far more engaging show in the Viaduct than the Apollo with live rather than canned music, as is the case here. The piece does make use of House’s signature manner of direct audience involvement, but the Apollo configuration is not able to fully engage the sides of the stage. The first part of the show is able to remind you in excruciating and unpleasant detail the adolescent angst that most of us mercifully forget and that so many shows romanticize via rose-colored nostalgia glasses: trying to fit in when you are new and strange to the established social order, trying to feign interest in classes that hold no interest for us, getting along with teachers who are as miserable if not more than we are, trying to keep from being the last one chosen on a team and attempting to avoid being a dodge-ball magnet, trying not to get sick when you have a dissection in biology class, et al. Where the show takes a bizarre and derivative pop culture plot turn—and I’m aware that this is what attracts many of its admirers to it—is the way that its fatal bus-accident survivor and unlikely heroine (brilliantly played with subtlety to spare by Carolyn Defrin as kind of a “I was a teenaged Ugly Betty”) copes with her trauma by taking Walter Mitty-like daydream dance “flights” that rupture into a disruptive reality for those around here who begin to see her as what the Japanese would call a kami: a strange and mysterious god among us. Where reality ends and fantasy begins is never divulged, nor is the point of all of this, which may be much of the show’s attraction for would-be shy superheroes. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln, (312)902-1400. This production is now closed.