BWW Review: THE TOMB OF KING TOT at Mad Horse Theatre Company
Mad Horse Theatre Company has gained a reputation for producing quirky plays that climb all over any remaining distinction between serious and off-the-wall theatrics. The last play for their 33rd season, therefore, is right in their wheelhouse, to borrow a term from the world of baseball.
In Olivia Dufault's "The Tomb of King Tot," cartoon characters come off the page to offer laughs and much more as their creator moves between elation and despair. It's a more harrowing theater experience than one might expect from the premise. This play hits home on a very human level while eliciting some of the best performances in the company's recent history.
The play begins with cartoonist Jane Haley working determinedly on a set of three-panel cartoons based on the adventures of King Tot, a nine-year-old Egyptian boy-king. She's preoccupied with an opportunity to win a prestigious award granted by judge Lionel Feather and is largely oblivious to the needs of those around her, including her teenage daughter Atlanta, her husband Porter and a rival cartoonist named Kissy Candida.
Jane's cartoons come to life with actors doubling as ancient Egyptians in a set designed with three windows along a back wall. At first, it's all quite funny. The jokes are just the right level of dumb but cute. Puns abound. But, as tragedy strikes, things get quite dark and emotionally unbearable for Jane and thus her creations. "I WANT MY MUMMY!" is a punchline that gains poignancy as the story unfolds.
Janice Gardner plays Jane with an intensity at the limit of what one might expect from someone with the proverbial artistic temperament. Despite the "whimsy" that her rival Kissy notes, there's an edge of character within Jane that author Dufault seeks to test. Gardner, in some heartrending scenes, makes her anguish all too real.
Allison McCall, likewise, hurls herself into her roles as Atlanta/King Tot. Both as a petulant tyrant and a wounded child, McCall reaches for and finds the raw nerves revealed through longing and loss. Burke Brimmer as Porter/Horemheb is effective as the stalwart straight man to the others' emotional turns. Tess Van Horn, as Kissy/Alligator Woman, reveals a comedic gift based in a smiling snarkiness.
Brent Askari rounds out the cast as Anubis/Lionel, both powerful authority figures who gather the loose ends of the story through a potent combination of wisdom and indifference. The actor, as always, uses his distinctive vocal gifts to cut through the layers of emotionalism on stage.
Director Reba Askari and an inspired group of actors and designers have provided Dufault's unusual excavation of human tragedy with a lot of heart.
"The Tomb of King Tot"
Mad Horse Theatre Company
So. Portland, Maine
through June 2, 2019
photos by Katie Day