BWW Review: THE MAGIC FIRE Is Wise, Witty and Wonderful
THE MAGIC FIRE, by Lillian Groag, is a 1997 memory play set in Buenos Aires during the 1950s regime of Juan Perón. This cross cultural immigrant family finds their personal refuge from the fascist politics of Argentina in art, theatre and opera. Events eventually bring them to the point where they are forced to confront not only politics, but also, their own moral obligations. The play first premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and still contains a powerful message that mirrors some of this country's current disturbing political trends.
Groag's play is a witty examination of the lie of nostalgia and the tricks that memory can play on you. The story is told by Lise (Natalie Garcia) who breaks the fourth wall to directly address the audience. One of Groag's extremely clever tools is the fact that Lise can address the memories, including her younger self (Lucky Cantu) and the extended family can directly address her. As the memories begin to be different from how she recalls them, there are some important revelations made. "We are in exile from our youth" and "it stinks of nostalgia in here" are particularly telling observations that are made as her memory begins to go south.
Director Norman Blumensaadt has done a masterful job with this production. From his perfect casting down to his staging, this show flows beautifully. There are multiple breathtaking moments in composition and overlapping naturalistic dialogue. Ann Marie Gordon has provided a simple set that evokes the period and also works nicely as multiple locales with effective lighting by Courtney DeGinder that greatly supports the memory play format. Colleen Power Griffin's costumes are excellent for the period and Jeff Miller's sound design is always at a realistic level which does much to enhance.
THE MAGIC FIRE contains remarkable ensemble performances by a company composed of some of the finest acting talent this city has to offer. You fully believe in this extended family due, in no small part, to the fully drawn cross cultural characters. The dialogue sparkles like champagne and the pacing flows like classical music. There is not a bad performance among this twelve member company. The accent work is spot on and the ensemble work is exquisite.
Natalie Garcia and Lucky Cantu are excellent as Lise. Greg Ginther brings an earnest believability to Otto Berg that plays well opposite Beth Burroughs no nonsense Amalia Berg. Giselle Maria Munoz, Rick Felkins and Katherine Schroeder are superb as Amalia's sister, Elena; father, Gianni; and flighty aunt, Paula. Jennifer Underwood is a comedic joy as crotchety Maddalena, the grandmother, garnering deep laughs on even her offstage exit lines. Karen Jambon brings a solemnity and dignity to Clara, Otto's aunt. Beau Paul is a stern commanding presence as General Henri Fontannes and Michael Costillia exudes passionate familial devotion as Alberto Barcos. Eva McQuade is properly reserved as the household employee, Rosa Arrura. It was seriously a joy just to watch this company perform.
THE MAGIC FIRE is a superb evening of theatre. The script is both wise and witty, and the execution is skillful. It also contains a timely and important message. I highly suggest you catch this show before it closes.
THE MAGIC FIRE by Lillian Groag
Running Time: Approximately Two and a Half Hours, including intermission.
THE MAGIC FIRE, produced by Different Stages at Trinity Street Theater (901 Trinity Street, 4th floor, First Babtist Church, Austin, Texas).
January 11 - February 2nd, 2019
Thursdays - Saturdays @ 7:30 PM, Sundays @ 3 PM.
$15, $20, $25 Thursday, $20, $25, $30 Friday & Saturday & Sunday
Reservations: differentstagestheatre.org or 512-926-6747