Chicago Theatre Review
Be All That You Can Be
Worthy – Adventure Stage
Everyone these days either sits or walks around with their heads bent in supplication. They’re praying to their iPhones, iPads and iMacs. This has become a brave, new iWorld, with technology reigning supreme as our new god and various forms of social media the religion devoted to his worship. Tweens and teens seem especially devoted to this form of orthodoxy and, much like the oracle at Delphi, social media not only has the power to answer their questions, but it also dictates who they’re supposed to be. Gone, or on its way out, is free will and self-actualization. A kid, nowadays, feels that he can’t be the individual he’d like to become, but feels forced into becoming some idealized stranger.
Dani Bryant’s exciting new play, created in part by incorporating suggestions from local students, is directed with gusto and a knowledge of what makes a young person tick by Sarah Rose Graber. In this play, four young people embark upon a challenging quest where they learn who they are and discover what they’re truly meant to be. Luna, Liza, Robin and Joseph are confronted by a website personality called Dragon, who sends the kids out into the Ether world dressed as princesses and knights to vanquish the demons dwelling there. Much like a modern fairy tale, they each encounter trolls, dragons and other strange characters, ultimately banding together to vanquish the electronic forces dictating their fates, finally choosing to make their own life decisions. This 60-minute production is funny, high spirited, inspirational and thought-provoking, seldom breaking its fast-paced stride for even a moment. In addition, the entire text is translated into Spanish for the Hispanic playgoer, with subtitles projected above the proscenium. The characters run, climb and soar all over Simon Lashford’s ever-changing set of chutes and ladders, challenging and dodging projections designed by Liviu Pasare and giant puppets created by Jessica Kuehnau Wardell.
The five-member ensemble cast is magnificent. Bringing honesty and realism to their roles, each actor is filled with spunk and determination. Every actor is an individual, yet true to his role as an adolescent outcast. Michael Harris, as Joseph, is the young boy who doesn’t like sports but enjoys being a knight in a flashy costume. He strives, against all odds and with all his heart, to meet every challenge he encounters. Kamille Dawkins is a teenager who feels insecure for any number of reasons, but mostly is just trying to live up to her own expectations while fitting in with the other kids. Robin, as played by Jessica London-Shields, isn’t a shy, ladylike little girl. Not for her the prissy and pink, Robin would rather wear worn-out jeans and sneakers, while taking charge and rough-housing with the guys. Then there’s Luna, Princess Luna, embodied with relish and realism by the adorable, hilarious Juanita Andersen. Luna is the total opposite of Robin, swaying around in her tiara and hoop skirt, just enjoying being a girly-girl. Last, but not least, is Brittany Ellis as Dragon, the cackling wicked witch of this piece, playing a number of unpredictable adversaries with resplendent theatricality and zeal. In the end, as each teenage character gains a better understanding of what it means to be the captain of their own ship and the master of their own souls, Dragon learns her own lessons. She discovers that there are still kids who will wisely refuse to let social media rule their lives.
Adventure Stage, known for it’s fine stage adaptations of noteworthy children’s literature, also creates original theatrical pieces, from time to time. This may be one of their finest innovative plays and the most timely, exciting production in a long time. Dani Bryant’s play speaks to every audience member, young and old, singing the praises of resisting peer pressure and the dictates of social media and following one’s own ambitions, goals and dreams. Under Sarah Rose Graber’s smart and stimulating direction, this excellent production encourages every theatergoer to get their noses out of their cell phones and to really live life, being all that they can be.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 17-May 16 by Adventure Stage at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-342-4141 or by going to www.adventurestage.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.