IF YOU GO
What: Winner of Theatre Conspiracy's New Play Contest; a man finds his new fiancé's family a bit more than he bargained for
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27; one 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 21
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Cost: $20; $10 for students
Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
FORT MYERS — "Tower of Magic," the winner of Theatre Conspiracy's annual New Play Contest, kicked off the season in grand fashion Friday. Real-life Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist (and playwright) Tess Light creates an unorthodox, fanciful and wholly entertaining array of characters to spout one simple message - know thyself, love thyself and love others too.
Friday's performance was the show's world premiere.
Consider. Doctor Zanzibar McFate spends the days bird-watching, although he treats sightings of common species akin to finding the ivory-billed woodpecker. Wife Capella siiiiiiiiinnnggsss evvvvvvvverrrrrrrryyy woooooooooord. Sons Pax (a mute who can only speak after a convulsive sneeze) and Tertius/Quartus (identical twins inhabiting the same body) play Tiddlywinks, climb trees and scrabble around under the porch. Mother-in-law Hestia hunts and cooks; no one questions the doubtful provenance of the provender.
Into this happy, hippy home strolls logical and modern traffic control engineer Felix (a wide-eyed, frantic, having-too-fun Miguel Cintron). He's come to reclaim his missing fiancee Susan, or Solstitia as she's known around these parts (Lucy Harris). Susan's "quick trip home" became into a three-week ordeal because she didn't' want to tell her unusual family about the prosaic Felix. Well, guess who's coming to dinner!
Director Bill Taylor creates, forgive the pun, magic, out of a whisper-thin script that's little more than a collection of curious quirks and outlandish character traits. Somehow, somewhere, he sighted the potential in this show and assembled a cast able to cast a hilariously improbable spell (sorry, sorry!) upon audiences. Light's characters live in a blissful alternate reality, freeing Taylor and his cast to go completely mad in exploring just how weird they can be.
J. Mitchell Haley (Zanzibar) and real-life wife Joann Haley (Capella) lead Taylor's rock-solid ensemble. The two lift the slight words into comic creations with sidelong glances, manic energy and expressive performances. Joann Haley turns in an inspired, if not divine, performance as a matriarchal diva. Her sung dialogue - especially during a tiff between husband and mother-in-law - absolutely made the night.
Harris (a gifted comic actress) gives Susan/Solstitia as much life as she can. Cintron plays flabbergasted fiancé as well as he's asked. The conundrum? Light's central characters - no matter the evident skill of the actors playing them - just aren't that interesting.
Both Harris and Cintron's best scenes come while interacting with other characters. Harris, trying to explain Solstitia's complicated feelings to forlorn Pax, taps into the show's mystical energy and achieves a radiance that gives depth to her words. A hysterical Christopher Brent (Pax) spends much of the scene running around in the background trying to find something to make him sneeze - and thus able to converse. Cintron's angry arguments with Solstitia's relatives feel both authentic and funny (how often do you argue with the in-laws?).
Too often, Harris and Cintron find themselves stuck trying to defibrillate an inexplicable and incomprehensible love plot that pales in interest next to the collection of outré oddballs spouting lively dialogue at left, right and center. Who really cares about their under-written lovers' quarrel while Hestia is cooking up swamp rat seasoned with toxic berries, Zanzibar is raging on about the velvet-fronted nuthatch and Pax is sitting up in a tree listening to Cappella trill?
The set, from Taylor and Curtis Jones, functions almost like an additional character. An enormous tree towers over the stage and part of the audience at house left. Characters climb into the branches. A forest of fake plants creates a veritable woodland opposite, with a suitably odd cottage in the center. Zanzibar and Capella's home drips with birdhouses, a historical bust, a microphone stand and a rocking horse. A disco ball (which I so want) hangs above the door.
Costumes (uncredited) strike the perfect peculiar notes. Haley's Capella floats through scenes in a red opera gown, an amethyst lounging robe and an electric blue number that fairly sizzles. Jamie Carmichael's uses a buttery yellow vest and powder blue shirt for Tertius and an amazing selection of vintage graphic tees for the unruly Quartus. Brent gets a crimson pair of Converse All-Stars to show Pax's deep inner passion.
"Tower of Light" is about as deep as a dewdrop, but it sure is fun. I wish the show had more of a point, but I'll certainly take the guffaws. If you're not laughing by the time J. Mitchell Haley's Zanzibar takes up the "Crane" pose from "Karate Kid," starts squawking like a crazy person and chases Cintron around the stage after accusing him of "extinguishing" Solstitia, you don't know funny. In the end though, the bizarre family (despite the buckets of laughter) feels like window-dressing designed to hide the wan, never explained conflict of whether the two lovers are "meant" for each other.
"Magic and mystery were part of their history…" Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.