I love a good quest! Unexpected heroes trying to save the world from evil. Harry Potter vs Lord Voldemort. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader. Frodo Baggins vs Lord Sauron. Indiana Jones vs Nazis. Katniss vs The Capitol. With all those dark forces in the universe, it’s reassuring to have a steadfast wizard, Jedi, hobbit, professor, girl as the chosen ones. And now, there’s Casper…
The House Theatre of Chicago presents the world premiere of THE IRON STAG KING: PART ONE. A hammer enforces order and peace in the world. It belongs to the Lady. She decides that the burden of governing is too heavy for one person. So, she brings in four leaders from different lands to provide a unified democracy. When she falls for one of the guys, the leadership balance tilts in his favor….or so the others believe. And when the Lady gets pregnant, jealousy kills her, the guy and world harmony. Her heir is saved from death and raised anonymously…until now. A local townie, Casper, finds out he is destined to rule the world. Hap the Golden and his rebel squad lead Casper on an expedition to secure the hammer. THE IRON STAG KING: PART ONE launches an epic pageantry of swashbuckling, fox-barking, picture-taking excitement.
Playwright Chris Matthews and Nathan Allen, also serving as director, plunge us into a page-turner world. They use Tracy Letts‘ voiceover to narrate the comings and goings of the characters. Letts‘ storytelling is Chicago’s Morgan Freeman solution. The intermittent oration keeps the quest manageable. Because Matthews and Allen are throwing a lot of details at the audience. It’s a whole new world and it’s a lot to decipher in the moment. Characters do long, and sometimes tedious, soliloquies to explain their backstory. (BIG Suggestion for PART TWO: besides a map, give the audience a study guide with characters and glossary of terms).
Scenic Designer Collette Pollard has converted the theatre into a four-sided cage. The audience is sitting inside these industrial border walls. Bleachers are segmented into four sections. Allen keeps the odyssey moving with the stage entrances between these sections. This effectively intrigues as the action is in surround-sight. The caped crusading costumes (Melissa Torchia) and deer, foxy puppets (Lee Keenan) add to the dazzling spectacle. The setting is ripe to transport us to a different world and this huge and talented cast takes on that journey.
Under Allen’s direction, the entire ensemble *houses it* with energetic and humorous antics. Veteran House mate, Cliff Chamberlain (Hap) solidly establishes the magical parameters. Chamberlain plays questionable leader with perfect confidence and underlying smarmy. A fresh-faced, smiling Brandon Ruiter (Casper) contrasts Chamberlain in youthful simplicity. And Chicago newcomer Ben Hertel (Pepper) delivers some hilarious and unforgettable moments. Many of the large cast morph in and out of multiple personas. It’s just terrific!
To make sure you’re there for the grand finale, THE IRON STAG KING: PART ONE is a must see for the evolving trilogy.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission.
At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
Written by Chris Matthews and Nathan Allen
Directed by Nathan Allen
Original music by Kevin O’Donnell
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 7pm
Thru October 21st
Buy Tickets at www.thehousetheatre.com
Photo courtesy of Michael Brosilow.