BWW Reviews: O LOVELY GLOWWORM OR SCENES OF GREAT BEAUTY from New Century Theatre Company
What do goats dream about? That is a question that has plagued mankind ... well ... not really at all. But New Century Theater Company is endeavoring to answer just such a question with their latest show, "O Lovely Glowworm or Scenes of Great Beauty" by Glen Berger. And this existential question is handled in as artfully and skillfully a way as to create a production of near perfection on every level.
It's circa 1918 in Northern Ireland where we meet the Goat (Michael Patten) atop a garbage heap. He is trying to survive the unimaginable pain of his bleak existence as best he can. And in order to try and escape, as well as discover his true nature, he retreats into his mind and concocts his scenes of great beauty. In those scenes we meet Marveaux (MJ Sieber) and Halliwell (Peter Dylan O'Connor), two love struck soldiers; the Mermaid Philomel (Jennifer Lee Taylor) as she floats on her bar of soap and lures men to their death; and a young inventor Macmann (Brian Claudio Smith) who just strives to invent the perfect toilet and his ailing Mother (Gretchen Kirch) who could go at any minute ... or decade.
Berger's script is quirky, surreal and simply lyrical. Now you may be wondering, "Where have I heard that name before?" Well, Glen Berger, aside from his own works, is also the co-book writer for the Spider Man Musical. But don't let that scare you off. This story has nothing to do with spiders. There is a glowworm, and there is singing, but I don't think Julie Taymor had a hand in this one as the show is simple and unadulterated storytelling.
The cast is nothing short of sublime. I don't even think I could call any of the performances stand outs as they were all so amazing, creating a tight, well oiled machine of an ensemble. Patten switches between his personas with ease while never losing his wonderful goat character. Sieber is hilarious as the bumbling deserter desperate for love. Kirch's death scenes are superb with just the slightest hint of attitude. Taylor is all attitude as the conniving mermaid who's not sure what she wants. O'Connor has the comic timing of a savant and his banter scenes with Taylor are a complete joy. And Smith's subtle naiveté is glorious turning his character from hapless fool to adorable underdog.
I must give double kudos to Roger Benington who not only directed but also scenic designed the piece. Perfectly paced and never losing its intention, the play sails along like a dream. And the set is a thing of masterful and simplistic splendor. Every set piece gorgeous unto its own right and nailing the tone of the piece; yet completely functional with not an ounce of wasted stage or set space. The lighting design by Andrew D. Smith and costume design by Harmony Arnold fit perfectly into this surreal world and only serves to compliment. And I have to mention Brian Kooser, creator of the goat itself for a truly stunning and practical bit of theater wonder.
My regular readers will remember my insistence they catch "The Brothers Size" from earlier this season as one of those shows they would regret missing for some time. Well here's the next one. Every aspect of this extraordinary piece comes together to form an exhilarating and joyous gem. I'll admit that at intermission I was slightly confused. "Where is this going?" I thought but was still nonetheless fascinated. And then they pull that one little string at the end which brings all the pieces together and ties it up into a wonderful little package for you to take home with you. A triumph!
The play, as was mentioned on opening night, is dedicated to the memory of local actor Mark Chamberlin who passed away during rehearsals to play the Goat. You can feel the amount of love and heart that went into it to honor their friend and colleague. Not only a magnificent production itself, but the perfect tribute to a fallen comrade. Truly a scene of great beauty.
"O Lovely Glowworm or Scenes of Great Beauty" from New Century Theatre Company performs at the Erickson Theatre on Capitol Hill through May 14th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.newcenturytheatrecompany.org.
Photo Credits: Chris Bennion