By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Reviewed by Gary McMillan
Brush up your Shakespeare
Start quoting him now
Brush up your Shakespeare …
… there will be a pop-quiz pretest plus a take-home essay exam following the show.
Rough Magic is a silly, pop culture confection for literature lovers. Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa revisits a formula as old as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and as fresh as Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). His bridge between past and present, fictional and “real” characters, is a plucky dramaturg named Melanie (Tracy Lynn Olivera) with an innate powerful magic able to summon characters from the page (primarily from Shakespeare and the classics, we are told) to the present. I venture that most theatre goers have little or no idea what and how a dramaturg contributes to a theatrical production. My awareness is scant beyond Thomson v. Larson, where a dramaturg successfully sued the estate of Jonathon Larson for intellectual property rights to Rent, legal action which many insiders assumed would have a chilling influence on the willingness of writers and directors to work with dramaturgs in the future. If a dramaturg is akin to a midwife for a playwright or a coach to a director, this thread is pretty well lost in the mayhem of the fun-filled romp which ensues. At any rate, Tracy Lynn Olivera is a vulnerable, delightfully ditzy, reluctant heroine who can deliver every shade of comedy from romantic to sarcastic, slapstick to erudite, and she shines in this role.
The story opens as Melanie contends with a sweet, but juvenile, blind date (Dustin Loomis as Chet) arranged by her sister. Chet is earnest, if not “importantly” Ernest. He takes a liking to Melanie and the pursuit is on, but she’s not buying.
Meanwhile, magic is afoot on another island in another time: Caliban (Cesar A. Guadamuz) and sister Miranda (Ghillian Porter) use the magical resources of their father, Prospero (Vasanth Santosham) to transport Caliban from their island prison to the island of Manhattan in search of the raven-haired magician with owl eyes (thick-rimmed glasses) who alone has the ability to save the world from Prospero’s wrath. Aguirre-Sacasa trades on his Marvel Comics experience to render supporting characters in comic book superhero and super-villain fashion, parts which are dramatically reinforced by the set of interlocking comic book panels which make up the set design.
Super-villains Prospero and his son, Ariel (Danny Gavigan), are sketched as two-dimensional foils, costumed respectively like Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon and Gary Oldman from Dracula, and they very nicely menace their way through the evening.
Guadamuz brings 3.5 dimensions to his tortured role as the two-dimensional Caliban. When Prospero’s curse brings out the beast in Caliban, Guadamuz has a comedic field day. (Will he leave the show early to do GEICO commercials?)
There are many other delightful characters from myth, theatre, and/or academia who pop up in Rough Magic. Porter is a touchingly winsome Miranda, totally integrated in The Tempest and a-sea in Noo Yawk Citee.
Revealing more would be telling too much. Suffice it to say that Melanie takes on the wizard sans the assistance of Scarecrow, Tin Man or Cowardly Lion, so come to see who takes here side from a library of possibilities.
(Run time: 2 hours) Rorschach Theatre’s Rough Magic continues at The Sanctuary Theatre in the Casa del Pueblo Methodist Church, 1459 Columbia Road NW Columbia Heights, Washington DC. Performances: Thurs thru Saturdays with two special Saturday matinees, Jan 27 thru Feb 24th. Tickets: $20 available at Rorschach Theatre Watch the preview on our main page.