Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood, CA.
April 5 – May 11, 2013. Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 7PM.
Tickets are $25, at www.sacredfools.org, or by calling 310-281-8337.
The Press Release: “When Richard Mayhew stops to cared for an injured girl on the street, he is drawn into a nightmare world beneath the city of London. His journey to ‘London Below’ is fraught with a rogues’ gallery of liars, outcasts and assassins. Richard must brave countless trials, uncover the truth behind a dark conspiracy, and face the indomitable Great Beast. Can Mayhew survive this treacherous voyage to awaken the hero within and return to his normal life?” This is a summary of an atypical urban fantasy. The novel was written byNeil Gaiman, who knows a thing or two about engaging stories, and as a live production my expectations were high at the premiere. Overall grade: A
The set: As you enter the lobby at Sacred Fools you find yourself in a tube entrance, complete with maps on the walls and warnings painted on the ground. Inside the theater you are greeted to the work ofMichael James Schneider. The floor is a spiral mish-mash of wood. To the audience’s right is a large column sitting atop a dias wide enough for an actor to walk upon. In the back center is a split platform with the bottom half being two small arched holes, as one would expect to find in a sewer, just big enough for someone to crawl through. The top of the platform is a large oval opening, where many scenes, such as the protagonist’s office, can occur. To the left is a raised platform with stairs before and to the right of it. The platform is big enough to serve as an apartment, library or residence for a supernatural character. Between the oval opening and the “apartment” platform is a projection screen that enhances where the characters are, as well as animations to highlight emotional scenes. There is a ladder on the extreme left for one sequence where the characters go into the rafters. It is a perfect set for the many settings that this play contains. In additon to the brilliant layout is the selection of the design in the set: it is seemingly composed of yellow, tan and brown fabrics stitched together as if they were wood panels. It evoked artist, and frequent Gaiman collaborator, Dave McKean. I enjoyed soaking in the look of this set before the play began. That are also several doors that are hidden in the set due to the patterns. Mr. Schneider is to be congratulated for creating such a work of beauty. Overall grade: A+
Projection FX: Having enjoyed the set before the show even began, my eyes fell frighteningly upon the projection screen. I’m not a fan of film projections during a live performance, just never have been. When the performance began I was so pleased with what Anthony Blackman and Ben Rock have done with their choices in visuals and just a few animations (my favorite being the “moment” in the library with no doors), that I’m going to have to consider my previous dislikes of projections during productions as wholly wrong. Both men’s contributions significantly enhanced the production. Overall grade: A
The story: I will now commit blaspheme in this review: I’ve never read Neverwhere, nor have I seen the BBC production. I’ve read Gaiman’s comics (for my pleasure) and his children’s books (to my daughters), but I’ve never read one of his novels. I know, I know…But I’m coming into this production in the best way: it’s all new to me–I have nothing to base it on. When I think of what I saw in this show, this had to have been a nightmare for Robert Kauzlaric to adapt. There were so many different settings, characters, action sequences, and there’s even the Giant Beast under London that’s essential to the story–and it’s all in this play! You get drama, action, fantasy, and a wonderful sense of humor, often from characters Richard Mayhew or the Marquis de Carabas. Joining these men on stage were two of the strongest women you’ll ever see, Door and Hunter. The two initial villains of the piece, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, were amazingly wicked, scary and fun. All of these characters would be amazing in a book, but to see their story before you was a marvel. Overall grade: A+
The costumes: You can’t have a fantasy without some theatrical costumes, and does Martin Morse deliver the goods! The simplest was Richard’s upworlder garb: slacks and a white shirt. I had assumed since this was set in the sewers its denizens would be in drab and dreary attire, but this was not so. Door is gorgeous in her bright, harlequin-ish costume befitting someone of her station. The Marquis was a rogue decked as a dandy in brown leather that evoked the look of a classical hero. Hunter was a strong woman in brown leather and stockings creating a look of any woman of power from Xena: Warrior Princess. And then there was Islington, whose Ziggy Stardust look demanded you focused on him–and you will never forget his eyes! And I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t say how much I loved Richard’s friend Gary who was dressed like Michael Caine! Every costume was unique and wonderful. Overall grade: A
The sounds: There was an original score accompanying this performance created by Ryan Johnson. It was the perfect match for the action, tension and hopes of those on stage. During the suspensful scenes, I found myself sinking into my seat when there was no score, much as you would in a horror movie knowing something bad was coming since the enjoyable music has been silenced. Mark McCain Wilson was the sound designer and he has been a very busy man. I now know that I should be afraid of the sounds of a subway and welcoming when I hear the squeak of a rat. Overall grade: A
The lighting: I find myself wary of the following, thanks to Matt Richter: the blinding light used in office cubicles, old cameras’ flashbulbs and crossing Knight’s Bridge. Richter’s strobes are amazingly effective in the slow motion scenes (trust me, you’ll understand this when you see the show). Overall grade: A+
The fight coreography: Wow–Was this unexpected! I’ve been to many plays featuring fighting, but when Hunter appeared on the stage the battles became amazing! A body flip in a bodyguard auditioning sequence was incredible! Major kuddos to Andrew Amani! Overall grade: A+
The puppets: I know! All that’s missing from this production was the kitchen sink! Garbed in theater black, Donnelle Fuller and Julia Griswold brought bird and beast to life, but their crowning achievement was a rat, whose slow sarcastic turn made the audience roar. Overall grade: A
The actors: Bryan Bellomo was protagonist Richard Mayhew the night I went and he was spectacular. He captured the worried, lost look of a man who simply wants to go home and confronts many fears to do so. He was the perfect everyman, and I loved his comedic timing and asides. Paula Rhodes (whose picture accompanies this review) was the perfect reason for Richard to begin his adventures. Rhodes began her character as a fragile waif and blossoms into a strong woman. The Marquis de Cabaras was played by Jonathan Kells Phillips who was the type of rogue that any boy or man wishes he was. Every woman in the audience perked up when he appeared because he was so dashing and handsome, and I’ll thank Mr. Phillips to stay away from my wife. Hunter was portrayed by Devereau Chumrau brought heroic strength and nobility to the play. When she is giving her monologue on her intentions, it’s stunning. I believed every word she said. She was a powerhouse in this production. Jessica, Richard’s fiancee, was played by Cassandra Vincent who effortlessly brings glamor and style to her role, with enough undercurrent of a type A personality to frighten every man in the theater, yet create compassion when she encounters Richard later in the play. Mr. Coop was played by Guy Picot at my showing and he made his character a classical wordsmith of a villain who wonderful words are only a precursor to the pain he will inflict. He was the type of charcter you longed to see more of, because he was so deliciously evil, but feared for you knew someone was going to get hurt. He was a highpoint of the show. Mr. Vandemar, Coop’s associate, was another highlight thanks to actor Bryan Krasner. His strength his appropriately overwhelming and where Coop was a knife, Vandemar was a sledgehammer. His fight scenes were amazing! Islington was a scene stealer, played by Carlos Larkin. You could not look away as he stared into the audience. I hung on his every word. His voice was beautifully hypnotic. Incredible performance! Old Bailey was a fun beacon of information acted by Marz Richards, who obviously enjoys his character. He was also a humorous character on a train, and his final robed character rivals Islington for taking the stage, though he was much more humorous. Richards was just fun to watch. A perfect cast. Overall grade: A+
The director: A show can have minor successes and suffer in some ways: great cast, poor staging or great set, terrible lighting. Scott Leggett has pulled every element of this production together to create magical perfection. This was a quickly paced show, mirroring the characters’ haste, and I felt pulled in with them in their races through the tunnels and sewers. To juggle this many locations and characters with this much energy shows the work of a master. Overall grade: A+
The final line: We should be thankful this has crossed the pond and opened its doors in California. If you love Neil Gaiman, you’ll love this show. If you love dark fantasy, you’ll love this show. If you love the theater, you’ll love this show. This production of Neverwhere should be performed everywhere, everyday, because it will not disappoint. Mind the gap. Overall grade: A+