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BWW Review: ANNIE JUMP AND THE LIBRARY OF HEAVEN at The Vortex

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What a triumphant return for live theatre at the iconic Austin venue The Vortex!

BWW Review: ANNIE JUMP AND THE LIBRARY OF HEAVEN at The Vortex

ANNIE JUMP AND THE LIBRARY OF HEAVEN finished its run at The Vortex Saturday night to thunderous applause from the audience and fireworks in the distance. What a triumphant return for live theatre at the iconic Austin venue The Vortex!

As a lover of children's theatre and a theatre enthusiast in general, it was magical to sit in The Vortex's Butterfly Garden in anticipation of my first live performance in sixteen months. The gathering was jovial and diverse in age; we were seated at two and three-person tables and served treats from Patrizi's and delectable drinks from the Butterfly Bar. The audience was invited to make an all-natural moisturizing exfoliating sugar scrub by The Oh Honey Company as a pre-show delight. As a theatrical experience, it was a remarkable departure from the norm to create a small gift for ourselves to take home. Soon after the demonstration, the performance began before an appreciative audience.

ANNIE JUMP AND THE LIBRARY OF HEAVEN by Reina Hardy is a captivating tale of a thirteen-year-old wiz-kid Annie (Oktavea LaToi). She is contacted by an alien intelligence in the form of a hip hologram Althea (Christina Blake), to be the recipient of universally collected knowledge. The residents of Strawberry are used to Annie's father, Dr. Jump (Jeremy Rashad Brown), being something of a crackpot. He firmly believes in alien life and has received a message proclaiming that aliens will make first contact if humans can prove their harmonious intentions. A new kid at school, KJ (Dane Parker), becomes Annie's instant nemesis when he unknowingly tells her that the entire town is laughing at her father for his alien contact beliefs. Enter Mrs. Gomez (Eva McQuade), who isn't only Annie's mentor, but her friend, who tries to guide her young charge by giving her access to the school lab for extra study. Without giving away too much of the plot, the story includes themes of single parenting, mental illness, and bullying woven into an engaging tale that is sure to make the audience laugh often and bring a tear to your eye. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

Reina Hardy's new play, ANNIE JUMP AND THE LIBRARY OF HEAVEN, is a stand-out among run-of-the-mill family shows. With a captivating plot, deep characters, and a top-notch cast, this production stands with any offering The Vortex has brought us in recent years. Staging the play on the Vortex's Garden Stage only added to its magic by using innovative set pieces and fantastic lighting. The cast's energy level could fuel the Texas electrical grid with megawatts to spare.

Leading the cast, Oktavea LaToi plays the titular role with moxie and kindness in equal measure. She portrays the thirteen-year-old genius heroine with pitch-perfect poise, never overplaying Annie's youth or underplaying her potential. As Dr. Jump, Jeremy Rashad Brown is utterly brilliant. He is so deeply invested in his contact with aliens that he sometimes forgets that he is a single parent. But when confronted with his failings, he is not only heartbroken, his deep love for his child brings a lump to your throat. Dane Parker's KJ is terrific. He captures the awkwardness of being the new kid in a small town easily and provides some of the best laughs of the night with his physical antics. Christina Blake plays the role of Althea, the holographic human manifestation of the Library of Heaven, with cheek and sarcasm. She uses her supermodel beauty to create a human and ethereal character at the same time. Last but in no way least is Eva McQuade as Mrs. Gomez, who provides many of the belly-laughs of the performance. McQuade is already an Austin comedic legend, and seeing her on stage after being locked down for so long is a rare treat. Her talents haven't dimmed in the least during our theatrical hiatus, and in fact, I believe she is funnier than ever.

In addition to incredible performances, Megan Kemp's set design is innovative and fun. Her use of the natural garden surroundings is brilliant. Lighting outdoors is notoriously tricky. When dealing with ground light, it's damned near impossible to create a lighting scheme that will even show up, much less be effective. Patrick Anthony manages to make the impossible look easy. His use of color adds levels to every scene, an awe-inspiring feat. Bringing talent like this together to produce an improbable hit with quality and depth is down to two magnificent directors, Marcus McQuirter and Rudy Ramirez. This directing duo has overlooked no detail, and it shows. It would be easy to look at this play as a 'kids show' and do the minimum to make the children happy, but it's evident that McQuirter and Ramirez wanted to entertain everyone, no matter their age, and they accomplished that and more. There was a packed garden with smiles, laughter, and thunderous applause from every table the evening I attended. What a magnificent way to announce that theatre is back!

ANNIE JUMP AND THE LIBRARY OF HEAVEN will have three more performances, free to the public July 15 - 17, at the George Washington Carver Museum at 1165 Angelina Street, Austin. While the performance is free, you must make reservations with The Carver at 512-974-4926. Please take this opportunity to see a great play with your entire family!

ANNIE JUMP AND THE LIBRARY OF HEAVEN

by Reina Hardy

Directed by Marcus McQuirter and Rudy Ramirez

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd, Austin

June 4 - July 3

AND

The George Washington Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina Street, Austin

512-974-4926

July 15 - 17

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets: Free (with reservation) Call 512-974-4926

Photo credit: Errich Peterson Photography


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