BWW Review: Vortex SYT Tackles the Timely and Relevant: IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE
If you know of a youth who is interested in acting and theatre production, send them directly to the Vortex for the Vortex Summer Youth Theatre at the next available opportunity. Voted "Best Theatre Program That Treats Kids Like Grown-Ups," SYT brings us Sinclair Lewis' satirical and political IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE this summer. And Lewis' subject, first written as a dystopian novel in 1935 and adapted into a play in 1936, proves as well as any textbook that history does indeed repeat itself.
Written during the fascism scare in Europe at a time when nationalism was on the rise and the promise of a return to traditional values and socio-economic stability was an illusory welcome, IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE concerns a politician running for President who captures the voice of a nation with his uncensored "authenticity," and populist message. Candidate Buzz Windrip (Trey Deason) could in fact, shoot someone on 5th Avenue and still be elected. And - despite the belief that he couldn't possibly win the election, he does.
But this story isn't about the politician, loosely based on the very real Huey Long, who ran against FDR and thankfully lost in 1936. The protagonist here is Doremus Jessup (Steven Fay) a liberal journalist who refuses to share the opinions and beliefs of President Windrip. Jessup, his wife, and his family of grown children are the focus in this production. After Jessup finally decides to speak his mind about the decline toward fascism he sees around him, his family's formerly bucolic life is shattered. Jessup is even sent to a concentration camp for a short time but eventually flees to Canada with the help of an organization not unlike the Underground Railroad called The New Underground.
Directed by Matthew Patterson, this IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE is full of beautiful pictures and crisp blocking set against Ann Marie Gordon's uncomplicated scenic design. Patterson has made some interesting and worthwhile casting choices that include young women playing men and youth playing contemporaries opposite the adult guest artists. Adult guest artists Fay, Deason, Dillon Yruegas, Mark Stancato, Toni Baum and Gabriel Maldanado get the job done well, and each of the youth performers does a great job meeting the demands of roles that are beyond their typical reach.
The youth cast members include Joilynn Green, Andromeda WhiteOtter, Kit Burton, Lily Poe, Zane Wolf, and Sophia Magri. Occasionally, these young actors fall into the habit of delivering their lines too quickly, but not one of them disappoints in their grasp of the character and ability to take good direction and make it work. There are strong performances from Lily Poe as Sissy Jessup and Joilynn Green as Lorinda Pike. Sophia Magri effectively takes on the task of playing Dr. Greenhill's beleaguered widow, while Zane Wolf tackles the tough work of playing Jessup's son Philip, who in the end, sells out. Andromeda WhiteOtter does a good job as David Greenhill and Kit Burton gives Julian Falk a charming curiosity and innocence.
On occasion, it's not as easy to understand some of the actors, and while well executed, there are some scenes that fail to come across as naturally as others. However, these flaws are nominal. IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE is a well-executed, tight, and engaging production. This is Vortex's SYT production made available to the youth who wish to participate as absolutely FREE. This is more than enough reason to support the show with a viewing. That the talent involved is sharp is a great thing too.
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE
Directed by Matthew Patterson
The Vortex Summer Youth Theatre 2017
At The Vortex
2307 Manor Rd
Tickets at www.vortexrep.org or 512-478-5282
Radical Rush Free Tickets: Limited free tickets for each performance in the spirit of sustainability, accessibility, and the gift economy. Radical Rush tickets released at 7pm each night-in-person only.
2-for-1 admission Thursday and Sunday with donation of 2 cans for SafePlace
Running Time: 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission