Monday, February 13, 2017

Review of Manual Cinema's Magic City at Chicago Children's Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Magic City. It was adapted from The Magic City by Edith Nesbit. It was conceived by Manual Cinema, co-commissioned by Chicago Children's Theatre, and devised by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia Miller. It was about a girl named Philomena (Sarah Fornace) whose parents had died when she was a baby and she was being raised by her older sister Helen (Julia Miller). Helen eventually gets a boyfriend, Brandon (Linsey Falls), and they eventually get married. And while Helen and Brandon are on their honeymoon, Philomena has to hang out with her stepbrother Lucas (Jeffrey Paschal). Eventually, she starts building a city out of junk in their storage room, and then she gets pulled into the world she has created and so does Lucas. It is about adjusting to your new life, sharing, and creativity. I thought this was a fun show. I love Manual Cinema's stuff and I think this is a great introduction for kids who might need more narration and color than a typical Manual Cinema show.

There were a lot of cool images in this play. Something that I found really cool was how they mixed dark colors with really bright colors (art direction by Lizi Breit and Dir). They also mixed the shadow screen images with live color video. Something I have always loved about Manual Cinema is how they put live action people in with puppets (designed by Breit, Dir, Miller, and Sam Deutsch). They incorporated miniatures as well (designed by Andrea Everman) because Philomenia and her sister had made many different worlds out of stuff lying around their house. I noticed a metaphor: Philomena eventually makes the best out of her situation just like she makes the best out of junk. They had a GoPro that was set up on the stage; it was there to film all of the actors not in shadow and to show you the miniatures up close. The cool thing was that they matched the projections so perfectly with the miniatures and real life characters. There was a moment that was very aesthetically pleasing to me where there was a ship that was stuck in a bottle that had a cork in it. Lucas was trying to get the little boat out. And that little sequence wasn't for nothing because Lucas used the boat to sail across to Phil-helen-ia, which is the world that Philomena and Helen created. There was also a rubber duck that seemed to be like a tugboat and I thought that was adorable and hilarious.

There were two famous historic figures in this show: Amelia Earhart (Miller) and Langston Hughes (Falls). It was fun seeing the shadow versions of them, and I thought it was cool that they were introducing these figures to kids at a young age. Amelia Earhart has always been one of my heroes, and I thought that it was awesome to see that she was a hero to Philomena in this story. I also really loved each of the scenes that they were in. Amelia Earhart gives Philomena a map. Sadly, eventually Philomena loses it. (I'd like to think I would be more careful with the map Amelia Earhart had given to me!) I thought it was cool and hilarious to see how Philomena reacted to seeing Amelia Earhart in the flesh--or in the shadow--in the Magic City. Langston Hughes was writing a poem but he was having a lot of trouble. Then Lucas decided that he was going to help. There was this little tune that Lucas played on a typewriter like it was a piano. Then Hughes and Lucas start playing a jazz song together on the typewriters. This was one of the most interesting scenes image-wise. It made me want a typewriter that was a piano; I'd write all my reviews on it.

The issue in the play is getting along and adjusting to new circumstances. I think a lot of kids have to adjust to things and a lot of pressure is placed on kids to get along with people. I think this play really shows where kids are coming from and kids can relate to it easily. Philomena-zilla is basically Philomena's inner demon, the part of her that just wants to destroy and kill everything. I think everyone has a zilla. Even Godzilla has a zilla! (So does Gamera--it gets very confusing.) Even though I did love Philomena-zilla, I did think she might have shown up too many times. I thought it was interesting how Philomena-zilla was the boss battle at the end. I think it might have been better to have just introduced her at the beginning and brought her back at the end because of all the times that they used Philomena-zilla it had gotten so that it was expected. Anger isn't defeated on the first try of course, but for the purposes of the story it would have worked better for me not to have to defeat her so many times.

People who would like this show are people who like building worlds out of junk, piano typewriters, and inner zillas. I thought this show was really fun to watch and people should definitely bring their kids to it. This is a good show that explores creativity, anger, and family in a simple but powerful way.

Photos: Charles Osgood

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