Review: ‘The World Over’
Buckle your swashes, mate, for a fantasy-filled voyage at Blackbird Theatre
Pretty much all young boys and girls go through a period in which they dream of themselves as dragon slayers saving their kingdom, beautiful princesses waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince, or pirates searching for booty – which is not to be confused with the prize their older siblings are looking for, of course.
Playwright Keith Bunin obviously recalls with fondness those bygone days, as he tosses pretty much every childhood myth and fantasy into “The World Over,” the closing show of BlackBag Productions’ current season.
With a plot way too thick to do it justice, let’s just say that “The World Over” tells the life-long adventure of a young man named Adam who comes to believe that he is the lost prince of a kingdom called Gilderay. It’s a reasonable assumption for Adam to make; after all, he was shipwrecked on a secluded island as a baby and knows little of his background. But when Cyrillian sailors stumble upon his island and recognize a ring he wears, Adam embarks on a quest to save his mother and free his people from tyranny.
It’s a several-decade voyage that’s filled with colorful characters and numerous plot twists, but the biggest challenge Adam faces is also the one least dangerous: Few take him seriously. That’s because the fabled kingdom of Gilderay is simply that: a children’s bedtime legend that’s been told and retold for generations.
But is there – could there be – more to the epoch than that?
Playwright Bunin’s action-packed thriller begs for a spectacle that just “wows” its audience the way the Indian Jones or Harry Potter movies did. But with only the smallest fraction of a budget to work with – c’mon, people, there were only a handful of paying customers at last Friday night’s performance, an unhealthy situation I’m running into more and more lately, and that’s a damn shame – director Joseph Zettelmaier instead tackles the project by utilizing a concept called Story Theater. With Story Theater, there’s no pretense about what you’re watching; rather, it’s plainly obvious that the actors and the audience alike are fully aware that this “ain’t real” – but with a shared wink and a nod, everyone pretends it is!
So, for example, if the seven actors – yes, there are only seven of them – need different costume pieces or props, they often reach into one of the large boxes on stage and pull them out – and instantly they become yet another character we’ve probably never met before.
It’s a fun concept that Zettelmaier uses well – especially with the lighthearted nature that’s infused throughout the show.
If there’s a drawback to this thoroughly fun and energetic production, however, it’s one that longtime readers of this column have “heard” me mention repeatedly. (In fact, I can see their eyes rolling already!) Actors who play multiple roles need to do more than simply throw on a sash or pick up a gun to become a totally different character. Voices must change (not just the tone, but also how the lines are delivered), mannerisms must be modified and attitudes need to be adjusted. That doesn’t always happen here, which only makes an overly complicated story even more confusing to follow
Actor Joe Colosi totally understand that, however, and he delivers a fine and often laugh-filled performance throughout the night.
Each of the other ensemble members (Aphrodite Nikolovski, Dan Morrison, Chris Williams, Ahmed Muslimani and Rebecca Staffend) has more than their fair share of moments to shine, as well.
The only actor to play a single role is Brian Thibault – and he’s totally believable as Adam. What I wonder, however, is why this character doesn’t physically age throughout the show as some of the others do. Is that part of the fantasy – we never see ourselves the way others do? Or is it simply an oversight?
“The World Over” BlackBag Productions at the Blackbird Theatre, 1600 Pauline, Ann Arbor. Thu.-Sat. Through June 25, and Sun., June 19. $5 & $17. 734-332-3848. http://www.blackbirdtheatre.net . Suggested for ages 12 and above.
The Bottom Line: Your inner child will scream for release at this somewhat scaled-down but still quite grand adventure!
Tidbits: Theater News from Around Town
Improv Inferno celebrates pride with special offer to gay/lesbian couples
If you’re a gay or lesbian couple and you’re looking for a “helluva good time” or just a “devilishly delightful evening,” look no farther than downtown Ann Arbor’s “hottest” comedy/lounge!
In honor of June Pride, Improv Inferno is offering free admission to any gay or lesbian couple who comes to “The Damnation Game” the weekend of June 24 and 25.
Simply show up with your partner, tell the doorman that you’re there for the Great Couples Giveaway, and both will get in free.
How cool is that?
The Great Couples Giveaway is the brainchild of Dan Izzo, Improv Inferno’s artistic director. “I really wanted to do something that showed the gay and lesbian community, as well as the broader Ann Arbor community, that not everyone supports Proposal 2. As a straight person, it’d be easy to say that this issue doesn’t affect me, but it does. We have gay and lesbian students and performers, and some of them are in committed relationships with children. To pass a law that dishonors the love and familial bond that these individuals possess offends my sense of fairness. I really think we’ll look back on these laws in the future with the same sense of shame and disbelief that we now look at separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites. I figured I should put my money where my mouth is and do something about it. The state’s trying to take away partner benefits, so I decided to do something to benefit partners.”
Part “Who’s Line is it Anyway” and part “Let’s Make a Deal,” “The Damnation Game” is the Comedy Game Show from Hell in which a group of comedians plays outrageously funny improv games and wins points on behalf of selected audience members.
The Great Couples Giveaway and “The Damnation Game” run Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25, at 10 p.m.
Improv Inferno is located at 309 S. Main in downtown Ann Arbor.
For reservations or information, call Improv Inferno at 734-214-7080 or log onto http://www.improvinferno.com.