BWW Reviews: Superman Soars into Dreams at Milwaukee Rep's THE HISTORY OF INVULNERABILITY
This April, Milwaukee Rep staged an interesting performance written by David Bar Katz for the finale of their 60th Anniversary season. Superman, a fictional comic book hero still idolized by young and old, arrived in the production The History of Invulnerability, a play dependent on an overwhelming presence of stage technology and directed by Artistic Director Mark Clements. This historical narrative on how Superman was "born" reflects the mind of his co-creator Jerry Siegel one hour and thirty-six minutes before Siegel died.
Siegel envisions the super comic book creation in his dreams while he reminisces his own life, a life where his actual son was left behind at age five, born in a first marriage. His Jewish heritage, the atrocities of World War II, and ultimately how the international rights to his stellar superman were contracted from him for a mere $130.00 in the 1930's intertwine personal narrative and historical facts.
The conversations between Siegel and his other "son' Superman pervade the play, while other significant personalities in his life fade in and out on the stage. A futile attempt to win back the rights to Superman by Siegel and the artistic cartoonist who drew him, Joe Schuster, leave the two friends living in near poverty for the most of their lives, a monumental injustice.
The technologically complex production's scenarios happening in Siegel's mind play to Bob Amaral's seemingly "nerdy" interpretation of this traumatized man who had a genius for the comics and comprehending the fantasy life of children and adults. As the Superhero JJ Philips stands in costume with an "S" emblazoned on his chest, a red colored by matching the hue with human blood to complement his red tights. In his invulnerability, Superman's handsome persona primarily narrates Siegel's story through confident and aloof comic book style.
A marvelous adult supporting cast conjures vibrant life during this production and includes Angela Iannone, Kelley Faulkner, Michael Kroeker, Josh Landay, Gerard Neugent and Greg Wood. All switch roles with amazing frequency while the immense projection screens in the background often upstage the humanity in this tale where one superhero derived from antiquity began with the Greek Gods, then culled from the personalities of Popeye to Zorro, and was eventually transformed to a Superman.
In another impressive display of talent, The History of Invulnerability projects how valuable the First Stage Theater Academy has become to Milwaukee. JJ Philips can be counted as one successful alumna while John and Luke Brotherhood together with Max Pink represent current students. These very youths who believed in Superheroes and might have worn red capes attached to their pajamas, have now achieved their own majestic dreams on stage.
Siegel's dream world inevitably leads from biblical Jewish history to the 20th century Holocaust where he believes the world, a decidedly evil world, desperately needs "saving." When the performance flashes to the German concentration camps, a young boy, Joel, envisions Superman will ultimately save them from the Nazi's devilish forces. Here, similar to most fairy tales, good and evil become clearly delineated so children and often adults, too, project their anxieties, fears and frustrations with the actual world into a story. Which can then be somewhat resolved on a psychological level when justice arrives to "save the day" as in the comic book, while if real life, as in this performance, proves otherwise.
Superman's tales achieved this time and time again, as his popularity continues well into this century, that humanity needs their superheroes to offer optimism in their future. For the theatergoer who enjoys an invitation into this history, the intriguing production provides a fascinating script on how one creative process was developed from an ordinary man's, Siegel's personal life.
In the final scenes, Milwaukee Rep's The History of Invulnerability and creator Siegel infer everyone appears to wish for a Messiah, a savior, a superman clothed in blood red and vulnerable to Kryptonite, similar to a Christ figure, both human and divine. A person who will right all the wrongs in the world, allow good to overcome evil, with justice insured when so often the world delivers justice misguided. This reinforces and gifts everyone watching in the audience a hope, a dream, that they, too, will one day win the war over evil in their own worlds, even if only on a imperfect, miniature human scale.
The Milwaukee Rep presents The History of Invulnerability in the Quadracci Powerhouse at the Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex through May 4. For information or tickets, call 414.224.9490 or www.milwaukeerep.com.