Chicago Theatre Review
An Adventure in the Anyverse
Psychonaut Librarians – The New Colony
Known for inspiring and producing dozens of world premieres over its nine years of storefront theatre offerings, New Colony presents an original science fiction fantasy by Chicago playwright and director Sean Kelly. This one-act adventure through time and space recalls Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time. Kelly’s play begins in a reading room filled with towering shelves. There we meet our heroine, Jane, a young girl raised on a variety of myths, fables and stories provided by her recently divorced librarian mother, Hester. The librarian staff have developed a secret elixir that can transport them from the real world into the “Anyverse,” a place where adventure awaits and anything can happen.
In this story of good versus evil, Jane falls prey to, and must continually fight off the dastardly Sandman, a venerable villain who sucks the soul out of his victims. While in this alternate universe, Jane meets and falls in love with Dewey (as in the Decimal System), a sweet, boyish young man who’s escaped from the tight grips of the Sandman. But, as in all great love stories, just when Jane finds that special someone who completes she loses him.
Twenty years pass and Hester is discovered at her retirement party, thrown by her coworkers in the back room of the library. Jane unexpectedly shows up at the gathering, where she meets her mom’s friends and fellow librarians, Emmerick, Rosemary and security guard PJ. Drinking the special elixir, they all find themselves wandering through the Anyverse once again, where they help Jane in destroying the maniacal Sandman and his menacing minions, ultimately freeing Dewey from the clutches of this villain. The two young people reunite and become one again, as the librarians soar on to further adventures.
Director Krissy Vanderwarker has staged this delightful fantasy like a low-budget Marvel superhero adventure. She’s challenged Sam Krey with creating the violence design and Monica Thomas with some stylized choreography. She’s also employed the talents of Catherine Tantillo to fashion an array of colorful, futuristic costumes and Breanne Ward and Evan Troost to create a variety of imaginative puppets. Yeaji Kim’s spartan scenic design is complemented by some handsome, colorful projection artistry. Alexander Ridgers offers appropriate psychedelic lighting and Matthew Muniz brings it altogether with his visionary sound design.
The ensemble cast, led by the terrific Christine Mayland Perkins, as Jane, is very good. New Colony newcomer Matt Farabee is fresh and appealing as Dewey. Together these two actors create a credible pair of loving, time-traveling voyagers. David Cerda, known for his wonderful work with his own company, Hell in a Handbag, is a caring, maternal Hester. Anyone familiar with Cerda’s work knows the actor’s expertise delivering lines with his usual dry wit. His Hester doesn’t disappoint, providing some of the play’s funniest dialogue with his resonant Joan Crawford-eque style and dignity.
Carlos Olmedo is priceless as PJ, the likably innocent library warden. He provides a policing presence in Anyverse, as well. Michael Peters and Morgan McNaught form a dynamic duo of strength, ingenuity and sheer chutzpa as they defend their friends and themselves against all odds. With less stage time than his fellow actors, Jack McCabe comes off as a bit stiff as the nasty Sandman. While his presence is obvious, a little more menace would’ve made this villain more frightening and forbidding.
This new play, by a theatre company known for their inventive new works, is sheer escape. It’s stuffed with unexpected humor, warmth and exciting daring deeds. It also offers a sweet, positive message of the importance of love and caring that, in today’s climate of apathy and sorrow, we can all use.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 11-February 12 by The New Colony at the Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage,1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.thenewcolony.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.