“This time it’s the superheroes that need your help.” (Cecily Grey/The Page, Spirits to Enforce)
Especially in this age of the Marvel cinematic universe, many of us have become used to the typical tale in which the superhero swoops in to save those in need. However, what happens when it is the superheroes who need the help? Do we owe them for what they have given their fellow citizens? What happens when superheroes become powerless in their situation, and are simply wanting to be seen as humans with dreams they hope to see realized? Playwright Mickle Maher asks these questions and more in his play – turning William Shakespeare’s The Tempest on its head along the way
The Passage Theatre presents Spirits to Enforce
Written by Mickle Maher and directed by Will Quam, Spirits to Enforce takes place 400 years after the events of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Dramaturg Daniel Washelesky provides a useful summary in the program that this writer urges you to read before the play begins. However, that which is important to know is that in The Tempest, Prospero is exiled to an island with his daughter Miranda, and he uses magic to rule the spirits living there – including Ariel, and the evil Caliban.
Now many years later, Caliban has found a place as a supervillain in the city, and the spirits of the island are the superheroes, also known as the Enforcers. Where do we find them after defeating the villain in their most recent victorious battle? Telefundraising for their production of The Tempest, and one thing is for sure – they seem to be far more successful at saving the city than securing donations. The entire play is told through the fundraising phone calls, and covers six months of time from the first calls to secure some donors, through selling Opening Night tickets, and ending with the day after opening as they recount the events that occurred.
Maher’s script is clever and fast-paced, and the audience of this particular performance was certainly laughing throughout. For those who are Shakespeare fans, you may appreciate the references and reimagining of the original tale. However, even if you do not fall into that category, Maher still invites us to relate to the characters who find themselves in this thankless job of telefundraising. You feel for the characters as they try again and again to get a donor to bite and believe in their cause, only to receive a rejection.
The play itself takes place inside The Enforcers’ submarine beneath the ocean, and Scenic Designer Elyse Balogh transforms the Berry United Methodist Church basement into the close, crowded quarters. The actors sit at a long table of telephones, and Balogh throws piles of books and other objects into the mix of wires, further highlighting the uncomfortable working situation for these superheroes. The intimate space of the basement draws the audience right into the submarine with the actors, helping push us into the story.
The amazing thing about this production is that the actors rarely leave their spots at the table, but the acting and use of creative moment still kept this writer fixed on the story. The submarine jerks or even starts to shake uncontrollably, at times. . Each of these sensations is brought to life through the actors themselves, utilizing precisely times movement and sounds such as repeatedly tapping a glass or kicking the bottom of the table. Anyone who has worked on the inside of a theater production and who understands the rehearsals that make for such tight timing will likely similarly find this especially exciting.
The ensemble of twelve is large, but carries a united stage chemistry that ties the story together. Each of the characters is also one of the superheroes in the Enforcers, and Maher’s choices for Superhero Names speak to the specific traits that set each apart – further adding to the comedy. For example, Craig Cale, or The Pleaser (Danny Turek) is meant to carry a charismatic attitude that even persuades the villains to take his side, and Turek certainly infuses that charm and large stage presence into his performance. He offers the perfect contrast to Carey Morton’s hilarious portrayal of Brad Allen/The Snow Heavy Branch who offers a darker, more deadpan comedy into the mix.
Leading the group is Emory Lawson, or Ariel (Peter Anderson). Each major plot turn is set into motion through Emory, and Anderson assumes that responsibility with a commanding presence. Because much of the play takes place behind the table with characters in their own thoughts and conversations, the slightest bit of change in movement is eye-catching, and often times it is Emory Lawson who dictates that change. This writer does not want to give anything away, but Emory makes a choice in the story that acts as a gamechanger. At this key moment, phone conversations pause, and all eyes look up to Emory who slowly stands from his chair at the center of the table. The moment is simple, but powerful.
Skillfully crafted and beautifully acted, Spirits to Enforce strikes this reviewer as the perfect inaugural production for this new storefront company.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Peter Anderson… Emory Lawson/Ariel/Ariel
Nick Barnes… Randell James/The Tune/Ferdinand
Morgan Burkey… Susan Tanner/Memory Lass/Miranda
Preston Choi… Wayne Simon/The Untangler/Caliban
Mikey Gray…. Rebecca Lloyd/The Ocean/Gonzalo
Chesa Greene… Donna Adams/The Silhouette/All Masque Characters
Julianne Lang… Diana Blake/The Bad Map/Trinculo
Jasmine Manuel… Dale Clark/The Intoxicator/Stephano
Carey Morton… Brad Allen/The Snow Heavy Branch/Alonso
Jin Park… Cecily Grey/The Page/Prospero
Tyler Anthony Smith… Oliver Kendell/Fragrance Fellow/Sebastian
Danny Turek… Craig Cale/The Pleaser/Antonio
Mickle Maher… Playwright
Will Quam… Director
Mel Vitaterna… Costume Designer
Charles Blunt… Lighting Designer
Elyse Balogh…Scenic Designer
Hannah Foerschler… Sound Designer
Jean E. Compton… Stage Manager
Daniel Washelesky… Dramaturg
Running through November 17, 2018
Mondays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 7:30pm
Berry United Methodist Church
4754 N. Leavitt St
Chicago, IL 60625
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.