Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Reviews: Neverwhere and War with the Newts

And how was everyone's Memorial Day weekend? Lovely, I hope. Mine was a tad chaotic (and way too much time spent on transportation), but quite good, overall. Though it has left me at a bit of a sleep deficit.

Anyhow, I've got a couple of reviews, one informal and one formal.

First off is Neverwhere, Robert Kauzlaric's adaptation of the novel by Neil Gaiman, at Lifeline Theatre. I've read a number of Gaiman's novels and liked them quite a bit, but I had never read Neverwhere. However, several of my friends have read the novel, and love it, so I got together with a few of them and saw the show this past Thursday. (And paid for it. My word.) Overall, I had a very good time.

I think my unfamiliarity with the novel was both a help and a disadvantage to enjoying the show. On the bright side, I couldn't judge any elements by how well they lived up to my memories of the novel (or the BBC miniseries) so, for instance, the fact that the character of Door was played as somewhat more imperious and no-nonsense (as opposed to more vulnerable) didn't bother me in the least. On the other hand, I think I missed some of the jokes and references, not to mention details of character and plot.

Still, the story was always told clearly and with brio, and the performances were very strong, with Kauzlaric, sporting a flawless Scottish accent as the hero, Kyra Morris, as a truly badass warrior, and Sean Sinitski and Christopher M. Walsh, as courtly assassins, standing out. The design work was truly outstanding overall, creating a wholly convincing world and some really magical effects. (By the way, in the past few months I have seen amazing designs by the fistful in storefront theatres. The people working there really know how to make the most of limiter resources, and I salute their imagination and skill.)

I found that the show didn't always pull me along, and the ending didn't have the intensity it needed, but overall it's a very entertaining show, and there's enough that's beautiful and exciting that it's really worth a trip for those in the mood for fun and involving fantasy. For Gaiman fans (a passionate lot), I'd recommend it even higher.

(And it's clearly connecting with its fans--on the Thursday I attended, it looked to be at least 85% full. On a Thursday!)

As for official reviews: I saw War with the Newts at the sadly beleaguered Next Theatre. Suffice it to say I didn't enjoy it. Didn't have anything to do with the troubles at the theatre--the script just has serious problems. My hopes are still high for things getting restabilized over there--it's a wonderful theatre.

And for what it's worth, my view was not in the majority, so maybe I'm just an incurable grouch. Here's the text:

"War with the Newts," adapted by Justin D. M. Palmer and Jason Loewith from Czech author Karl Capek's 1936 novel, has such potential. After all, it's about a race of amphibious creatures which are discovered and enslaved by humans, until they rise up and menace the world, and the production features water, puppets and projections. Even if it didn't work, one would hope that the sheer variety and bizarreness on display would make it interesting. So it's particularly disappointing to report that, despite the ambition of the project and the obvious intelligence and skill of the creators, the show is deadly dull.

A number of factors bring about this unfortunate turn of events. First off, the script itself is fatally unfocused: the newts are a satirical stand-in for...well, just about everything, from the victims of German racial theories and American lynchings to arrogant imperial powers to illegal immigrants working for low wages. The satire is too scattered to hit any target squarely, but the historical parallels are too obvious and overdetermined to permit much insight into the general human condition. Add the repetitive and strident domestic drama surrounding protagonist Mr. Povondra (Joseph Wycoff), the lengthy descriptions of offstage action shoehorned awkwardly into the script (we don't see a representation of a newt until late in the second act, so everything they do happens offstage), and the confused structure, and the result is a script that makes it very hard to get engaged, despite individual sections that work quite well.

The design and staging are indeed quite impressive, though they often feel lost in the theater, which is much larger than Next's home base in Evanston. The actors do individually strong work but can't give the show shape and clarity. The ambition shown is laudable, but the show just doesn't hold together.


Mia McCullough said...

Jason Loewith. Not James, babe.

Zev Valancy said...

Shite, thanks. Fixed. I need a fact checker.

Bob said...

I thought I was the only one who didn't care for "Newts." And what was up with that superabrupt ending and the random scene change?

Bob said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zev Valancy said...

First off, Bob's second post was a repeat of the first, not anything scandalous.

Second, Bob: yeah, this got a pretty positive response from a lot of people. It seems like they were responding to the potential drama and thematic richness more than they were to what was actually onstage. But what do I know?