Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, I use to pretend my life into a happily-ever-after. At chore time, I imagined a fairy godmother would appear for the big rescue. When I was sent-to-my-room in punishment, I made-believe my hair was long, golden tresses able to sustain the weight of a princely visit. I was always certain the next chapter of my life would be the big reveal. That I was just one shoe away from a fairy tale ending.
The State Theatre presents THE WORLD OVER. Adam grew up on a deserted island. His only connection to his mysterious past is a ring. When he is rescued from isolation, his ring inspires a sailor to tell a children’s fairytale. In this fable, the ring belongs to the lost Prince of Gildaroy. The legend is that the royal heir was smuggled out of the country. The Queen saved the baby’s life and bestowed the ring as a maternal memento. Adam really gets into the story. Literally, he becomes convinced he IS the Prince of the mythical country. He sets out on a quest to rescue his banished mother and secure the throne from his tyrannical uncle. His determination leads him from adventure to adventure. THE WORLD OVER is a Candide-coated fantasy.
Playwright Keith Bunin has penned a story within a story within a geography lesson. At the heart of it, an optimistic orphan overcomes a series of calamities in his identification quest. It has a similar tone to Voltaire’s novella that was transformed into the operetta, “Candide.” Bunin uses a narrator to frame his fantastical tale. At periodic moments, Dan Toot (ensemble) pops out to map out significance. The entire talented ensemble plays various roles. But Toot goes impressively from heavy-accented storyteller to scholar within moments. It’s such a drastic change, I’m almost convinced it’s someone else. Under the direction of Tim Speicher, the first act is a tight ship navigating many stormy waters. The show is all about surprises. It starts out light and frothy, a touch of “Pirates of Penzance.” But very early in the show, Austin Campion brings a level of Grimm intensity to the fairytale. Undaunted, Dan Gilbert (Adam) enthusiastically rises to each challenge life throws at him. His courtship of Emily Radke is spoof-tastic. The crazy sultan Adam Shalzi throws up impossible tests to win his daughter. The Fight Director Zev Steinberg and the projections artists make the trials more intriguing and hilarious. The Gilbert and Radke are two crazy kids in love. Emphasis on the crazy, Radke adoringly follows Gilbert on his dream chase. An obsessed Gilbert steers his ship into dangerous waters. The climatic finish to the first half is a perfect cliffhanger. It also is powerfully choreographed with whimsy and drama.
For the first act, Speicher whips through all of Bunin multiple story lines with well-paced amusement. The second act gets a little sluggish. Maybe it is because our hero, Gilbert, is struggling through a rough patch. But the energy level of the cast seems to drop a couple notches. It’s like sprinting at the beginning of a marathon. The show still entertains but drags a little in the second half. Among the second half highlights, Alee Spadoni and Mark Viafranco are hysterical as the warring mother-son. Radke brings another level of comedy as the whorish girlfriend. So, many story elements. So, many places visited. I’m feeling kid-like with a nagging ‘are we there yet?’ mantra.
Still, it’s a fun, frolicking fantasy! With a little tightening, THE WORLD OVER is sure to win Chicago over!
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes includes an intermission
At ARCC Ballet, 2220 N. Elston
Written by Keith Bunin
Directed by Tim Speicher
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays at 8pm
Thru November 19th
Production photograph courtesy of Zane Davis.