Saturday, July 12, 2014

5x5 Theatre Review: Kavalier & Clay

So, I went to Book-It Theatre last night with buddy Margaret to see their adaptation of The Amazing Adventures of Kavlaier & Clay. What is Book-It? Here it is in their own words:
Book-It creates world-premiere adaptations of classic and contemporary literature for the stage, preserving the narrative text as it is spoken, not by a single “narrator” but as dialogue by the characters in the production. This technique [...] allows the Book-It theatre experience to spark the audience’s interest in reading and to challenge the audience to participate by using their imaginations. Book-It’s unique style of acting and adapting books is trademarked, known as the Book-It Style™.
I did not know that it was trademarked. Anyway...

1. The production was four hours long: a five-hour running time with two ten-minute intermissions and a forty-minute dinner break. We were there from just before 6 pm to just after 11 pm. Despite this, huge swaths of the novel were cast aside, and the adaptation focused on two themes: Joe Kavalier Hates Germans and Sammy Clay Is Gay. As a result, the play moves along briskly and the evening never felt a lag.

2. The lead actors were excellent. David Goldstein captured Sammy's alternating bravado and self-loathing perfectly. Frank Boyd made an engaging Joe, thin and intellectual and sad, although he did have to resist the urge to act with his accent. Opal Peachey was a lovely young surrealist Rosa (and Luna Moth in a fantasy sequence) but really shone as older, bitter, weary suburban Rosa. The huge cast of characters was presented by an ensemble; only a few of the multiple-roles were occasionally jarring.

3. The scenic design and costumes were minimalist and presentational but serviceable, if nothing extraordinary. Two elements didn't work for me: one, the art that was shown enlarged as Joe would draw something just wasn't good enough - Joe is supposed to have a very delicate, professional drawing style influenced by his fine art training, and the images that were supposedly his were not bad, just cartoonish. In addition, the stagehands were in costume as they changed props and sets; it was a bit distracting, especially when they did not join the scene as extras.

4. Everybody in attendance seemed to have a favorite scene or line and were either pleased or disappointed to find its inclusion or absence. I was glad to find the What is the Why? scene fully intact, along with its Do Mine Next follow-up in the Rat Hole; on the other hand, Margaret was disappointed that the extended Antarctic sequence was truncated and presented mostly symbolically and with little detail. Surprisingly, the Golem of Prague is mentioned only a few times, and is never a presence in the story at all.

5. The play seemed of two minds about showing superheroes, the genre and fad that the play is set within. I mentioned that Luna Moth's origin story is indeed portrayed; Sammy's Dad, the circus strongman Mighty Molecule, also makes an early appearance in an awesome costume, foreshadowing the whole trope. But while the origin of the Escapist is acted out by all the characters in a fantasy tableau, just like with Luna Moth, the depiction ends before Tom Mayflower dons his costume. The only time we see the Escapist costume is when Joe wears it in the Empire State Building scene toward the end. The lack of an appearance, either in an enlarged image or in a fantasy sequence, by the character that drives the boys' fortunes seems a pretty odd omission, and it left quite a hole in the narrative for me.

Overall, a worthwhile production and a great night at the theatre.

Bonus Material

In the lobby of the theatre, they had erected a display educating the audience not about the book, but about comic themselves. Here's what it looked like:

I had some quibbles with the setup. The display seemed to read from left to right, but the chronology was off. They didn't distinguish between comic books and strips clearly, and some of the facts seemed incorrect. It was still a nice touch.

Good sense of history: pre-Batman Detective Comics.

Bonus points for using material from obscure publishers, not just the Big Two.

Mad props for including the original Red Tornado.

Charlie Brown, Sandman, and Doc Savage: an example of the odd chronology.

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