In which Spooky Action Theater’s production of OPTIMISM! and its bow to the great Voltaire inspires Hunter Styles to let loose his inner poet.
If wit is your thing, you’ll find buckets to spare
in this thrilling, rambunctious new take on Voltaire,
whose timelessly dark sense of humor obscene
still lends much to Candide in 2013.
Spooky Action, while small, brings a grand scale of fun
to the tale of the titular prodigal son
with this freshly revamped (and now rhyming!) new version
of poor Candide’s ill-fated global excursion.
It’s a whirlwind onstage as this story unfolds,
with nine actors in upwards of seventy roles
leaping in from all angles and playing with glee
at the heights of emotion required to be
true to Voltaire’s original cutting satire
of war, education, the rich, and the dire
inequities felt by the suffering poor
at the hands of the powerful, greedy for more.
It’s been two hundred fifty-four years since the day
that the cranky old Frenchman decided to prey
on the theories of Leibniz, who came to the the schism
between church and state wielding grand optimism.
I believe, Leibniz said, that the Lord tries his best,
so there’s no use complaining when put to the test.
But who — thought Voltaire — will repent the world’s killin’s
if the victims are always forgiving the villains?
So Voltaire penned this masterful tearjerker tale
in which callow Candide, far from home, soon sets sail —
with a curious eye and substantial élan —
on a rollicking planet-wide bildungsroman.
From Bulgaria on to Cadiz and Lisboa,
then off on the seas like a younger Balboa
to the Amazon jungles and lost El Dorado,
where our hero learns quickly and earns his bravado.
No atrocity, see, be it rape, war, or murder
can destroy this young man, full of hope, who’s incurred a
fair share, if not more, of increasingly stranger
deceits, double-crosses, and great deals of danger.
Although, over time, we begin to observe
that Candide’s optimism is starting to swerve
from the straight line of logic that Liebnitz intended
toward a personal interest in injuries mended.
By the way, was it Disney who said, after all,
that the world we inhabit’s remarkably small?
Because Candide keeps coming across folks he knows
from the previous chapters, arriving in droves
to locations far-flung at impractical rates.
Why does God, oh cruel world, choose to reset their fates?
Oh and hey, while we’re at it, what’s the deal with the rhymes?
This new version’s rough couplets don’t quite all sync up.
Never mind, it’s all fun, and this great cast excels
at their vocal and physical conjuring spells.
In the ring with the team (the show’s done in the round)
we careen through a tale in which humor abounds.
Thanks to keenly-staged scenework from Mike Chamberlin
it’s quite tempting, when over, to jump in again
and trek on through America, Asia, and Persia
with a troupe that performs with such breakneck inertia.
OPTIMISM! or Voltaire’s Candide
Closes May 19, 2013
Spooky Action Theater
1810 16th St NW
2 hours, 35 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $20 – $25
Thursdays thru Sundays
Thirty scenes are a lot to get through in one night,
but a cast with such energy lets us take flight
on this trip with Candide, Cunégonde, and Pangloss
and these other fun characters, wandering lost
through a world full of pain, much in need of reflection
(luckily, the play’s end brings some nice introspection).
It’s a show, as you’ll see as once the story unfurls
that comes close to the best of all possible worlds.
OPTIMISM! or Voltaire’s Candide . Adapted by TJ Edwards from a novel by Voltaire . Directed by Michael Chamberlin . Featuring Adeoye, Michael Kevin Darnell, Ryan Alan Jones, Patricia Lynn, Rosemary Regan, Gregory Stuart, Ryan Tumulty, John Tweel and Jessica Shearer Wilson . Production design team: includes Giorgos Tsappas (set), Brian Allard (lights), Bradley Porter (sound), Laree Lentz (costumes) and Deb Crerie (props) . Produced by Spooky Action Theater . Reviewed by Hunter Styles.