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Colorful World: Dramatis Personae

There's a whole lot to chew on and mull over in Colorful World, the new play by James Comtois, but despite some great ideas and wonderful performances, the show is confusing and doesn't effectively hit all its marks.

Inspired by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' genre-busting graphic novel The Watchmen, the show takes place in an alternate universe continuity from our own.  In 1988, a man discovered he was impervious to pain and his skin could deflect bullets.  At first he went out on the streets of New York as a vigilante, but then he was hired by the government and put to work as a symbol of America- given the name Overman (taken from the correct translation of Nietzsche's "Übermensch", more usually translated as "Superman").  Then, with the development of Kevril, a lightweight Kevlar-like fabric, a rash of costumed vigilantes took to the streets in the '90s, among them Ramses, Tigress, Peacekeeper and Johnny Patriot; some were conscripted by the government along with Overman into a justice league called the Alliance of Champions and all others were demoted to "costumed supervillain" and terminated.  Now it's 2005, the Alliance has been dissolved, Ramses has become a millionaire businessman, Tigress has a bum knee and has moved to Brooklyn, and Johnny Patriot and Peacekeeper are dead (Peacekeeper's suicide opens the play).  Only Overman (the only one with real superpowers) is still active, but seems to have disappeared or gone on vacation.
…Which is a little confusing, but would be all well and good, if Comtois' storytelling were not so uneven. All the above backstory is delivered in scattershot exposition through flashbacks and television/radio announcements, along with various details about the world we're in- NASA has a space shuttle on its way to Mars, The World Trade Center is still standing, the war with Iraq is ending, Electric cars are the norm, an Indian Fast Food takeout chain is hugely popular...  Then suddenly, literally halfway through the first act, some characters begin direct address to the audience, with expository monologues that are sometimes many pages long.  Some subplots are referenced then not referred to again, characters appear in Act II who were barely mentioned in Act I, and characters' motivations are confusing and unclear.  The focus keeps shifting, and the show doesn't keep to a consistent style or tone, going from reverence for superheroes to mockery of them.  Because it's a deconstruction of Watchmen, which was itself a deconstruction of MLJ Comics' superhero stories, the idea ends up as weak as a photocopy of a photocopy.  Which is a shame, since so much about this play is good.  It's witty and funny in places, and its examination of governmental and media corruption of superheroic ideals is impressive and intriguing. Comtois examines the psychological problems of his uncaped crusaders and lampshades some of the sillier superhero tropes with a fan's nitpicky delight. With some judicious trimming (the play runs 2 hours, with a 10-minute intermission) and a more focused point of view, this could be a great piece.

The cast is superb- Abe Goldfarb shines with magnificence as Ramses (I also recently saw him in Hostage Song.  I look forward to seeing more of his fine work).  Jessi Gotta simply owns the stage as Tigress, looks great in her sex-kittenish costume, and kicks some serious butt in the fight choreography.  Both actors do a fine job illustrating how their costumes change their personalties, letting their personal overmen out.  Mac Rogers is very funny as ascended fanboy Guy Madison, and Patrick Shearer is flawlessly spooky as the stoic Overman himself.  They're ably assisted by 4 supporting actors who play the rest of the world- Zack Calhoon, Mark Landers, Ben VandenBoom, and Christopher Yustin.  …And the recorded voices who appear in the radio and television announcements- Pete Boisvert, Isaac Butler, Rebecca Comtois, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Desmond Dutcher, Brian Enk, Shay Gines, Matt Johnston, Marsha Martinez, and Brian Silliman.

The fight choreography by Qui Nguyen and Alexis Black is very impressive.  Lighting design by Phil Shearer is perhaps better than it really needs to be.  Sound design by Patrick Shearer is great and video and picture projections by Rebecca Comtois are impressive, though a thudding sound seemed to accompany the end of each video/sound cue. Costumes by Meredith Magoun are very nice (especially for the over-the-top superheros), although surprisingly there are no tights (despite them being mentioned in the script)!

Colorful World
78th Street Theatre Lab (236 West 78th St. at Broadway)
May 8-10, 15-17, 22-24, 29-31 (Thursday through Saturday).
All shows are at 8 p.m. and tickets are $18. for tickets.

Photos by Amanda Schwab
  1. Patrick Shearer as Overman
  2. Jessi Gotta as Tigress

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