Tuesday, July 24, 2007

PLAY: "The Magic of Mrs. Crowling"

The real magic of Brian Silliman's new play, The Magic of Mrs. Crowling, is that he's managed to work his way through the sardonic silliness of a Harry Potter/J. K. Rowling parody and find a sincere story beneath the blunt humor. This slight-of-hand works by means of an amusingly distracting first act that manages to keep raising the energy, like a magician drowning in scarves so that he can conjure up a dove. In this case, that dove is the soberer second act (just a bit too expository), which pulls the curtain back and releases all that comic tension.

Director Abe Goldfarb keeps the pace moving at a whimsical speed, and he counterbalances all of his choices to make a greater effect. The quick cuts between scenes make the long, awkward pauses stand out (silence is always a great punchline), and the exaggeratedly epic scenes from the book (complete with a movie-quality score by Larry Lees) really punch up how mundane Kicken Petchio's (Paul Wyatt) life is. Of course, it's no wonder Kicken is so obsessed with the fate of "Henry Shields and the Groglog Imperium": in real life, he's dying of a rare cancer, his mother's already dead, and his father's fear of death has made him a sports-obsessed tyrant. Also, if I had friends like Dazzelin (Patrick Shearer) and Valiaare (Dennis Hurley), who so trippingly enunciated their wizarding words while battling eye-popping evil like Charcana Charcane (Ronica V. Reddick), I'd probably "wax fantastic," too.

The charm of the play comes from combining the two worlds: Kicken's father Ramsey (Brian Silliman) brings A. R. Crowling (Shelly Smith) so that she can reveal the end of all this "geeky shit," only to find that she's on the literary steroids of cocaine, and that her case of writer's block is only worsened by her own characters' constant criticism. Smith has the choice part here, growing from an eccentric loon to a Hulk-like warrior and a defeatist New Yorker, all in powerful spasms of text. Silliman, meanwhile, has the advantage of also being the play's author, and along with Goldfarb's precise directions, manages to milk out all of his laughs without straining them. Finally, Wyatt's the heart of the show, one of those rare actors who understands the desperate need of children to believe, and his frustrations are what give substance to what is essentially a peanut gallery of wizards.

Right now, The Magic of Mrs. Crowling can ride the cusp of Pottermania to draw audiences who feel a bit ashamed of their own fervor for more "Pot." Even after the glamor fades, Silliman's show can hold up: he just needs to cut out his unfortunate mimicry of Rowling's all-too-real exposition.

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