Chicago Theatre Review
A Doorway Through Time
The New Plays Humana Festival, sponsored by the Actors Theatre of Louisville, has great respect for the writing of Jordan Harrison. To date, they’ve staged five of his works, with his latest play having its Chicago premiere, as the shining jewel in the crown of Shattered Globe’s current season. Charming, exciting and full of childlike wonder, Harrison’s play is a magical, breathtaking trip through time and space that examines one boy’s journey, from childhood to adulthood, and back again. It’s another reminder that life is a banquet and that we should live each day as if it were our last. Into his 80-minute one-act, Harrison incorporates a gorgeous, extended metaphor depicting the power of imagination, while also celebrating the wonder of stories and storytelling. The playwright questions our ability to harmonize the innocence of youth with those life experiences gleaned from growing up. Harrison also asks if it’s possible to ever go back to before?
Kai is a precocious ten-year-old whose imagination is fed by Grandpa’s exciting, provocative stories, including a special tale about a magical, crystal doorknob. Rescued by a sailor from the figurehead of his sinking pirate ship, the doorknob is now attached to a door in his grandparents’ house. It’s believed to have supernatural powers, which Kai discovers firsthand as he’s transported magically into his own future. Like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Kai finds himself traveling swiftly through time, pausing to discover various key moments in his life. When, while playing a game of hide-and-seek, his sister Annabelle discovers that Kai has disappeared, she sets off in search of her brother. Hoping to rescue him, this story is reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” another brother/sister story featuring a character named Kai.
The production crackles with fast-paced action and verbal pyrotechnics. While it doesn’t play out in a linear fashion, it’s very easy-to-follow and told with childlike wonder. Thanks to Krissy Vanderwarker’s inspired direction, which is always creative, daring and innovative, this show sparkles with brilliance and creativity. Kai’s unpredictable journey is played out by six talented and versatile actors, each of whom take turns as a variety of characters.
Kevin Viol, as Actor A, is Kai for most of the play. The talented actor plays the ten-year-old boy realistically without ever resorting to being patronizing or phony. His adult Kai grows naturally out of the boy created during the first third of the play. Again, without relying upon stereotypical behavior, the actor seems to gradually become older and wiser with each scene. The always reliable Ben Werling is wonderful in this production, this time playing Actor C, who is both Kai’s grandfather and, in a later scene, his husband. Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel is a standout as Actor D, the sassy young office receptionist for a Hollywood TV mogul, as well as a very funny and realistic beauty queen. Christina Gorman’s Actor B is a study in fine acting, playing a number of roles, from a narrator to Kai’s devoted younger sister Annabelle. Joseph Wiens, as Actor E, makes a great narrator and a humorous, multi-layered TV creative executive; and Bryan Bosque is very good as Actor F, playing a sailor who rescues the crystal that becomes Grandpa’s magic doorknob, as well as Kai’s sweet, gay lover and an air-headed waiter.
The story, its shape-shifting actors and the physical space are as fluid as water. Grant Sabin’s impressionistic set is stylish and speaks volumes in its simplicity. A giant rainbow, emanating from a battered door that’s suspended in space, its image represents the web of life, a ship’s rigging, the crystal’s prism of colors and the gay flag. A raised platform centerstage offers continual surprises as it opens up to reveal several hidden compartments; and a towering structure stage right becomes a tree, a tower, a streetlight and ship’s mast. Sabin’s flexible scenic design perfectly complements both Harrison’s story and Ms. Vanderwarker’s directorial vision. Sarah Jo White’s multicolored costumes continue the image, using colorful, mismatched accessories which the actors don, as needed. All of these elements are enhanced by Michael Rourke’s evocative lighting and Christopher Kriz’s sensitive, original soundtrack.
Shattered Globe continues to entertain and inspire with its excellent caliber of storytelling. This wonderful script by Jordan Harrison, in a well-cast, brilliantly directed production by Krissy Vanderwarker, is the culmination to a fine season of plays by this ever-impressive theatre company. Harrison’s haunting play will delight audiences, make them think and feel and bring a tear to the eye. This doorway through time is presented in a brilliant production that’s an absolute must-see.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 9-May 23 by Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.theaterwit.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.