photo: charles osgood

The Elephant and the Whale: A good kids' play about a friendship that simply cannot last.

Theatergoing parents like the idea of taking their kids to plays, but there are times when these small-pint-focused productions can feel a little predictable (or precious) to adults. Try The Elephant and the Whale, a collab between the Chicago Children’s Theatre and Redmoon. It's good family fun—puppets included.

Sure, the point of this culture thing is to engage the child in something other than Dora or Angry Birds (and to feel smug and virtuous in the process). But it's also refreshing to come away from a kid play with an adult sense of appreciation. That actually happened here.

First, there is the doomed friendship of the two large mammals. As much as they’d like to hang tight, they ultimately can’t. Elephants and whales live in very different neighborhoods.

In this vaudevillian play, the animals are brought together by a mean circus operator named Quigley. Of course, such tension is familiar to adults, but when the child viewer can come away with a certain pang—the sense that a story can be, in the words of my eight-year-old son, “both happy and sad”—it’s impressive.

But as is always the case with puppet-focused Redmoon, it is the company’s amazing ability to do low-tech at such a high caliber that ultimately enchants the entire audience. The tale is told with help from a bicycle that scrolls 100 feet of illustrated paper along with masks, puppets, light projections, and just enough digital animation that you remember it’s 2013.

It's enough to keep your kid interested from beginning to end. Bonus: It’s only an hour long. Ages 4 and up—Quigley’s kinda scary!  

Tickets $20. Through May 26 at the Ruth Page Center (special autistic-friendly production May 4 at 11 a.m.).