Review “Worthy” (Adventure Stage): Clever Modern-Day Fairytale

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 Permalink

AdventureStage_Worthy5Adventure Stage Chicago presents the World Premiere of WORTHY.

When I go to a children’s show, I like to pay attention to what’s going on onstage as well as in the audience.  When kids are engaged in the play, they laugh, repeat dialogue and often talk directly to the characters.  When they aren’t as interested, children audience goers restlessly move around, whisper to parents and take frequent bathroom breaks.  At various times during Saturday’s performance, other than the adult-generated laughter I heard right behind me, the audience was fairly quiet and still.  Although the 7 year old girl next to me sat transfixed, I still wondered if the story was over her head.

The show starts out with a talkback.  Adventure Stage led a bilingual conversation about ‘identity.‘  The questions and answers were given in English and then echoed in Spanish by a translator.  (The show also has Spanish projections.)  The word ‘identity’ is a hard one to define for young and old alike.  And the answers given were broad and odd.  A gentlemen answered ‘point of origin‘ twice.  I was unsure what he meant.  And I was certain kids had no clue to his point.  Instead of introducing the show in a lively participatory way, this beginning was confusing. 

The story itself revolves around the concept of identity without formally focusing on the actual word.  Instead of asking ‘how do I identify myself?  How do others identify me?‘,  the three princesses (Juanita Andersen, Kamille Dawkins, Jessica London-Shields) and one prince (Michael Allen Harris) grapple with their own personalities and how others react to it.  They go on a quest to find themselves. Creator Dani Bryant modernizes the coming-of-age fairytale with smart phones, Facebook, Youtube and other well-known but renamed online entities. 

Showcasing technology as a peer pressure tool is powerful.  And it one point, the royal misfits even become the cyber-bullies instead of the victims.  The shift is eerily subtle.  The message of ‘being yourself’ and ‘letting others be themselves’ is there.  Its just hidden under layers of techno-glitz. The show is a visual spectacle. The ever-changing projected imagery is a poignant backdrop.  It’s just hard to see.  The projections are on flowing drapery instead of a flat surface. 

Andersen, Dawkins, London-Shields and Harris deliver distinct and high-energy performances.  Their spirited journey of discovery is fun.  Their camaraderie feels genuine.  Their obstacles to success are all played by the versatile Brittany Ellis.  Channeling Maleficent, Ellis first appears majestically in a flowing cape.  She later pops up as a cyber troll.  As guardian of the bridge, Ellis is hilariously hunched over in a hoodie and pecking on a keyboard.  And in her most wily nemesis role, Ellis plays a bubbly beauty guru from the internet.  In each of her parts, she tries to get the kids to conform to societal pressure. 

The story is clever.  Three princesses and a prince try to figure out who they are verses who society thinks they should be.  Bryant and Director Sarah Rose Graber, along with the ensemble, devise this modern-day fairytale.  They super-charge the show with technology.  Even the ending focuses on disconnecting from the virtual influences of the internet.  I got it!  I’m not sure all kids will.  Even ‘Worthy’, as the title, is a hard word to define.  And I don’t remember the concept of  ‘worthy’ being discussed during the play.

At the end of the show, there was another talkback.  And at two different times, two little girls said they were happy Andersen kept her crown.  I don’t really think they were indicating alignment with Andersen’s nonconformist stand to be true to herself.  I believe these young ladies were just happy to see the show end with a princess in a tiara. With this ‘Disney princess‘ obsessed generation, it’s good for girls to hear that princesses aren’t just beautiful and waiting to be rescued.  They are smart, resourceful and always kind.     

The suggested ages for the show is under 14.  And I would even tighten that to a pre-tween, 10-13 years old.  And I’d also suggest kicking off the show with ‘what one word describes you?‘ and end the show with ‘which character is most like you?‘  And let the conversation about ‘identify’ and ‘worthy’ manifest from that.            

Running Time:  Ninety minutes includes a pre-show and post-show talkback and with no intermission

At Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble

Created by Dani Bryant

Directed by Sarah Rose Graber

Fridays at 7:30pm

Saturdays at 4pm

Thru May 16th

Buy Tickets at www.adventurestage.org

Production photo by Johnny Knight

For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago.

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