Rorschach Theatre’s production of Neverwhere illustrates what it is like to be a middle-aged woman—completely invisible.
We should all be so lucky that crone-dom were as creative, atmospheric and fantastical as what Rorschach, under the ingenious direction of Jenny McConnell Frederick, has devised for this Grand Guignol romp through an alternative universe below London populated by people who fell through the cracks.
Based on a BBC miniseries and novel by fantasy writer Neil Gaiman (the Sandman graphic novel series), Neverwhere takes the audience on a dreamlike, hallucinatory journey through an underworld that at once resembles the London we know and love and builds upon the city’s lore and secrets in extraordinary ways.
Our entry into this underground society is through mild-mannered Richard Mayhew (Daniel Corey, who powerfully grows from docile observer to stalwart hero in the role), an investment analyst stuck in a rut of work-pub-fiancée. After he rushes to help an injured homeless woman named Door (Sarah Taurchini, who gives the role a Hunger Games-y resolve and desperate cunning), Richard is pulled into a dark and dangerous subterranean realm populated with talking rats, curiously erudite assassins, fallen angels, runaways, mentally ill street people, warriors and the stray pirate.
You see, Door—so named because she inherited the family gift of opening unseen portals—is on a quest to find just who murdered her kinfolk. Hot on her trail are two hired killers Mr. Croup (Colin Smith) and Mr. Vandemar (Ryan Tumulty), Victorian era thugs straight out of Sweeney Todd who speak with scholarly eloquence as they strip your flesh and staple it to a wooden board or carve out your liver to give you a taste.
Nasty creatures, those, but Mr. Smith and Mr. Tumulty inhabit the characters with such macabre glee and attention to grisly detail that you find yourself giving these sociopaths a major break. You feel the same way about Door’s ally, the Marquis de Carabas (Grady Weatherford), a charming conniver with an elegant way with the riposte who, as portrayed by Mr. Weatherford, has a decadent whiff of the Vicomte de Valmont about him as well as the roguish swagger of Jack Sparrow.
Richard faces his own demons—fear of the dark, fear of being a nowhere man—while helping Door stay alive to find her answers. This being a quest story, Richard passes each test, but you wonder what takes a larger toll on his psyche—being cast alone in the dark with his nightmares or a harrowing sequence that takes place at a tube stop where he faces being totally insignificant and almost succumbs to the siren’s call of suicide.
Closes September 15, 2013
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
3 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Where Neverwhere fails to entirely captivate could be due with its creators falling in love with their creativity and all the possibilities unfolding before them like a magic carpet. Render the legendary sewer beast with a couple of headlights and skeins of fabric—sure! Evoke a floating market filled with Felliniesque patrons—no problem!
Some judicious cutting would have been welcome, because no matter how wondrous everything is, three hours is an awfully long running time for anything, let alone a fantasy that is supposed to be taut. The episodic nature of each scene gets repetitive, as do the actors constantly going around and around the multi-tiered set.
However, lovers of fantasy and graphic novels will eat up the whole demonic enchilada, especially the deliciously gruesome touches—the squeaky patter of the rats, the audioscape of dripping water and echoing groans, the crumbling London Underground signs and crumbling columns that hint at the world above ground, the 360-degree staging that envelopes you in every aspect of the experience.
Neverwhere by Robert Kauzlaric, Adapted from the novel by Neil Gaiman . Director by Jenny McConnell Frederick . Featuring Daniel Corey, Emma Jackson, Jennifer Knight, Lee Liebeskind, Cam Magee, Scott McCormick, Liz Osborn, Colin Smith, Christian Sullivan, Sarah Taurchini, Ryan Tumulty and Grady Weatherford. David C. Ghatan (Set Designer), Cory Ryan Frank (Lighting Designer), Veronica J. Lancaster (Sound Designer), Andrea “Dre” Moore (Props Designer) and Debra Kim Sivigny (Costume Designer) Robin Covington (Stage Manager), Catherine Tripp (Assistant Director), Casey Kaleba (Fight Choreographer), Lauren Cucarola (Asst. Costume Designer), Swedian Lie (Asst. Set Designer), Jonnelle Walker (Asst. Stage Manager) and Megan Reichelt (Dramaturg) . David C. Ghatan (Set Designer), Cory Ryan Frank (Lighting Designer), Veronica J. Lancaster (Sound Designer), Andrea “Dre” Moore (Props Designer) and Debra Kim Sivigny (Costume Designer) . Produced by Rorshach Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.