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There's something very refreshing about grassroots community theatre and the passion of its players to create offerings that are distinctive from the more established or commercial enterprises. That's the way it is with Space55 Theatre. The Ensemble, founded twelve years ago and now enjoying new digs, has dedicated itself "to developing new, under-represented and innovative theatre, and presenting it at an affordable price in a relaxed, casual environment."

Consistent with that ambition, that's what Ashley Naftule, the company's associate artistic director, has developed in his quirky semi-dark comedy, THE FIRST ANNUAL BOOKBURNERS CONVENTION (directed by Dennis Frederick and running through September 30th).

Nothing "conventional" happens in the course of two acts that skip-scene between what feels like disconnected fragments with intermittent flashes of insight but ultimately build up to a Faustian-type conclusion. Weirdness, instead, prevails as demonic figures intercede in the daily monotony of working urbanites.

Francis Neville (Sky Donovan) lives the tedious life of an employee at the Opera Street Bookstore, along with his sister, Aaron (Dayna Renee Donovan) and Millicent Musica (whose exotic name is matched only by the gothic appellation and mien of Marcella Grassa). Grieving still over the loss of his sister Cynthia, Francis finds solace and encouragement in the cuddly arms of his girlfriend Amy (Claire Hopkins).

The tedium breaks after Francis comes into possession of a tome (thanks to nice guy Johnny, played by Brett Higginbotham) whose mysterious code he insists on breaking. When magically the code reveals itself as an accurate prophecy of Francis's days to come, the play's direction takes a turn to the fantastic.

Thereupon, Francis is betwixt two forces that seek possession of the Book. Two demonic masked figures (Julie Peterson and Tessa Geelhood), like things that go bump in the night, conspire to seize the Book. But, they are no match for the persuasive powers of the black-suited Mr. Cold (Megan Holcomb).

Holcomb's turn as the robotic alien-like deity who speaks in an android halting cadence is a show-stealer. And, for those familiar with John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies and the first mention of Indrid Cold, the Grinning Man, she should be well-appreciated for her delivery of a solid and engaging representation of the character. (Credit to Naftule for adopting the icon.)

Every deal that man makes ~ in this case, Francis's with Cold's ~ has its tradeoffs. In the case of Cold's mephistophelian deal with Francis, playwright Naftule has offered up a play that should provoke contemplation about what deals we're willing to make with the devils around us.

Photo credit to Space 55

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From This Author Herbert Paine