BWW Review: HUCK FINN - GUEST OF THE WINDING WIND at Just Off Broadway Theatre
The ghost of a character purporting to be Huckleberry Finn in later life appears dangling from a hot air balloon at the 2017 KC Fringe Festival. This Huck Finn has very little to do with Thomas Blankenship of 1845 Hannibal Missouri who was Samuel Clemens' childhood buddy and Mark Twain's inspiration for the character.
This Huck is as interpreted and reimagined by Phillip Kinen as part of a six-episode cycle of plays. August Wilson wrote a ten-episode cycle of plays about the African American experience. Sophocles wrote a three-episode cycle of plays about the travels of ancient Greek King Odysseus. Modern audiences will never mistake "Guest of the Winding Wind" for one of those.
"Guest of the Winding Wind" finds Huck depressed and almost alone. He hooks up with a faithful Indian companion and is convinced to go adventuring. He has descended from I'm not sure where to land at the Just Off Broadway Theatre in the old Kansas City Police horse stable below Children's Hospital.
The show begins hopefully enough. It is probably one of the most handsomely mounted productions you will see at "Fringe" this year. The props are carefully built and prepared. The costumes are elaborate. The lighting is pretty good. The opening has erudite "Huck" on stage lecturing to a tented crowd or perhaps at the Cooper Union Hall in 1895 New York and gets the audience ready for a caper.
Unfortunately, these are the high points. Somehow, we migrate to the old west or Peter Pan or Don Quixote or the Lone Ranger or somewhere. This hot mess falls completely apart. The actors literally run around the stage yelling at each other, ducking arrows, being something they are not, donning ridiculous chicken costumes, and waving their arms.
At the end of the hour, the audience politely applauds- relieved to be at the end of the performance. Instead, the show starts up again briefly. Applause again. Then, we start up again a third time. The actors finally retreat to the lobby to await their congratulations and photo session. They locate themselves between the theater exit and the lobby to the outside.
Huck Finn was one of Mark Twain's most classic characters. He was the 19th century's version of "street smart." Huck came from a humble and abused background, was an illiterate, but not dumb, and was well meaning -- even if he always got into frequent difficulties. It is suggested Mr. Kinen go back and reread Mark Twain.
I will not be reviewing the remainder of the cycle. This play has as much to do with a Huck Finn cycle as a bicycle has to do with a wagon or Huckleberry Finn. That sound you hear is Sam Clemens turning over in his Elmira, New York grave.