Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Luck of the IBIS

Photo/Aaron Epstein

Not since Jollyship the Whiz-Bang has such an outlandish concept actually worked, but between Jonathan A. Goldberg's eccentrically beautiful narrative and Tom Ridgely's lavishly inventive aesthetic, The Luck of the IBIS is a top-flight production. Always one comically clever step ahead of the audience, Goldberg (who could just as easily have been named Rube) manages to operate on many levels at once, satirizing young-adult literature while at the same time being sweetly nostalgic for it. Of course, that's sort of the point--he's putting weight behind what appear at first to be frivolities, reminding us from the get-go that no matter what we invent, there are always consequences.

It's a lesson learned right off the bat: Metonymy Jones (Jocelyn Kuritsky), rocking a sort of goth-chic fashion, is looking for her twin sister, Parrhesia (Jessica Pohly), unaware that she's just been thrown into the sea by the lovestruck yet intensely superstitious Captain Kraken (Nathaniel Kent). To find her, she reunites with an old friend, the former child-detective Clewrissa Baumberg (Amy Landon). So far, that's riffing on Tom Swift adventures, Nancy Drew mysteries, and that's to say nothing of the Amish ghosts, colossal squids, and--of course--the looming father figure/secret villain, He (Brendan Donaldson). It's a sort of refrigerator-box noir, in which milk crates become airplanes, and Ridgley, who normally does musical mash-ups with the company Waterwell, is built for this sort of Calvin-and-Hobbesian rhythm.

The real secret, however, is that The Luck of the IBIS isn't nearly as zany as it sounds. All these antics--and talented actors like Kent play it to the ever-lovin' hilt, especially in his role as a Clewrissa's coffee-drinking chupacabre husband--are Metonymy's way of dealing with her own personal issues. Goldberg's writing sneaks up on the audience, too, because the story is written as a pseudo-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, so that scenes take on entirely new meanings as the past and future start to coalesce. And yet, it's never overbearing--in fact, even the most radical scene, in which a refugee shrimp (the hilarious Landon) recounts the fate of its people, is wholly believable and understandable. What it remains, however, is endlessly surprising: one scene in the play happens twice, but even though one of the characters has the same lines, the shift from her partner reveals a far more tragic interpretation.

Striking as it may seem, everything that occurs in the play is justified--even its constant references to Ronald Reagan. If you believe, as the play and the ancient Greeks do, that we create things to help forget the horrible cost of living, then The Luck of the IBIS is a terrific way to pay off that debt. And if you don't believe, well, isn't it wonderful to find a play that reminds us that it's not to late to learn to do so?

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