Most stories about a hero involve super powers, but The Making of a Modern Folk Hero features a would-be champion armed with little more than a ridiculous costume and righteous indignation. As unlikely as that may seem, both the hero and this play at the Source Festival achieve major success.
It takes a confident playwright to open with a long silent sequence, in this case one which reveals the desperation and alienation of Renzo Rafaeli (Bradley Smith). Renzo is a fourth-rate actor on the verge of a desperate act when the door knocks. Old college roommate and now Congressman David Dover (Odell Ruffin) brings a unique proposition.
David wants Renzo to become a costumed hero who can save a public housing development from destruction (borrowing from an old Mexican tale). He needs someone who can work outside the system and he is willing to supply the information and the costume. Having no other prospects, Renzo agrees.
Renzo overcomes his initial stage fright to fully embody his heroic alter ego. His success is documented and then supported by Internet journalist Vanessa (Danielle Davis). Renzo develops a taste for social activism, however, and David starts to lose control over his creation.
Bradley Smith gives a wonderful performance as Renzo. He makes the character pathetic yet funny at the start, and manages the character’s growth as he starts to find meaning in his new existence. Watching him assume his heroic attitude despite a pot-bellied physique is a treat as his posture improves, his voice lowers, and he takes on a whole new persona.
The other members of the small cast are also talented. The early scene between Renzo and the Congressman as the former college roommates try to reestablish ties is a symphony of discomfort. Their later exultation over the initial success then turns back into awkwardness. Odell Ruffin is excellent at projecting the sense of feeling bad that he is using his old friend, but that he must preserve his political future.
As the intrepid journalist, Danielle Davis is authoritative and ultimately idealistic. She manages to describe events in a way that makes them compelling while also giving a sense of the hero’s character. Katy Carkuff is a valuable utility player in multiple roles.
What really makes The Making of a Modern Folk Hero so captivating is the success of the production at achieving a consistent tone. The story is rooted in realism, yet has bizarre touches and a heightened sense of absurdity. It is a serious story, but it has a knowing sense of humor that manifests itself throughout. Credit for this tightrope balancing act goes both to director Catherine Tripp and playwright Martin Zimmerman.
The Making of a Modern Folk Hero is a highlight of the Source Festival. Let’s hope it has a life afterwards.
The Making of a Modern Folk Hero performs again June 25 at 8pm, June 30 at 8pm and July 3 at 8pm.
The Making of a Modern Folk Hero
By Martin Zimmerman
Directed by Catherine Tripp
Produced by The Source Festival
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 1 hour 10 min (no intermission)