The Mushroom Kingdom is in a tizzy. It’s perennial hero (and everyone’s favorite Italian plumber), Mario, no longer finds satisfaction in running, leaping, and rescuing, in facing his spiked, fire breathing nemesis, Bowser, in taking Princess Peach’s hand in his and riding off into the sunset, after a slice of cake. Repetitively.
He still loves to jump. But he also loves to plumb, which he’s neglected as hero-ing absorbed his life. He’s also a bit tired of his girl Peach, the consummate hostess and resident optimist who’s content to wait wherever Bowser takes her until her man turns up.
Brother Mario, as you’ve already guessed, plays with the worlds and characters of Super Mario Bros., placing upon a subset of its most popular characters real world, adult (and philosophical) problems. And, everything about this production is incredible—from the detail in the set and costumes to the use of sound and music. Including, of course, the characters.
Princesses Peach (Amber Gibson), Daisy (Natalie Boland), and Rosalina (Megan Reichelt) are, as usual, awaiting their rescue as Bowser (Ryan Tumulty) stands guard—bobbing ever so gently and releasing the occasional defensive fireball. Daisy, however, is not satisfied, lamenting this meaningless loop that is their lives, intermingled with the occasional round of go-karts or tennis. Mario (Lee Liebeskind) arrives, followed closely by Luigi (Grant Cloyd) and upon hearing Daisy’s rant, falls into his own despair, which leads him to make poor life choices that throw off the balance in the carefully constructed world and cause emotions to run high. Except maybe for King Boo (JonJon Johnson) who ghosts around not feeling much of anything. Because, well, he’s already dead and feels next to nothing (a state Johnson conveys with deadpan humor).
All the while, Rosalina discovers that her life work with orphaned star babies has given her severe radiation poisoning from which she will not recover, inspiring her to build a rocket.
Mario and Luigi are names synonymous with childhood for a cohort of adults that came of age with Nintendo. Now they invade our adulthood, thanks to this Flying V’s original production.
Mario and Daisy’s existential crisis, their sudden self-awareness, leads to not just a love triangle, but to everyone’s discussions about death, attempted suicide, nationalism, complicated relationships, universal health care (mushrooms), science’s importance in sustaining life, and the meaning of life. Or, rather, a life without meaning.
“We all stop being ourselves,” Mario says just before a fateful drag race with his brother, “after enough time has passed.”
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closes March 12, 2017
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Brother Mario is funny. Purely funny and true to the many worlds of Mario without being ridiculous or campy. In fact, despite replicated cartoonish visual elements, the themes are authentic and feel very real, even in the hands of characters we all know to be fake. Here, they are full of life.
Tumulty as Bowser is both fearsome and kind, as well as unfailingly loyal to his life’s purpose, defeating Mario, which drives him to protect Mario from other demises. He’s the only one who can destroy Mario—something he reminds you of often in surprisingly deep, always dark, rants.
Cloyd’s Luigi is slightly effeminate (in an amusing Niles Crane sort of way) and, even after being wronged by Mario, devoted to his family, Daisy, and the rules of the world in which they live, which makes him play second fiddle. Always.
And Reichelt’s Rosalina takes a seemingly preposterous storyline (straight from the game) and makes it a heartfelt thread filled with cruel irony.
“I’m less scared of dying,” she says to Daisy as they contemplate her coming demise, “than leaving a mess.”
The production crew has brought a beloved world into 3D being with precision, using everything from the original escalation music to the sound of a fireball swooshing by to stay true to what made the original game so iconic. The costumes are bright and beautiful, including Bowser’s red shock of a mohawk and the princess dresses.
The writing—done by Seamus Sullivan—is sublime. It’s full of dark corners that capture human anxieties with humor. And, it expertly weaves goombas and lumas into dialogue with ease.
As an ensemble, the cast is brilliant, each carrying their weight with aplomb in a well-balanced show that resolves nothing and everything all at once, just as a videogame concludes only to be restarted the next day.
Brother Mario brings back all the childlike wonder and excitement you may have felt the first time you, as Mario, leapt to the clouds and ran at the (not so) speed of light, pocketing large gold coins in quick succession and destroying goombas. So, go for the nostalgia. Stay for the fun. Enjoy the edginess just beneath the surface. And, be sure to come ready to laugh. As you will.
Brother Mario by Seamus Sullivan. Directed by Paul Reisman. Featuring Lee Liebeskind, Grant Cloyd, Amber Gibson, Natalie Boland, Megan Reichelt, JonJon Johnson, and Ryan Tumulty. Production: Melanie Harker, Audience Design; Lynly Saunders, Costume Design; Kristin A. Thompson, Lighting Design; Elliot Shugoll, Master Electrician; Rachael Knoblauch, Properties Design; Britney Mongold, Scenic Charge; Brian Gillick, Scenic Design; Kenny Neal, Sound and Music Design; Andrew Berry, Special Effects; Greg Condon, Technical Director; Jonathan Ezra Rubin, Stunt Consultant; Elizabeth Hansen, Run Crew; Susannah Edwards, FOH Associate; and Caitlyn Fitzgerald, Assistant Stage Manager. Samantha Owen, Stage Manager. Produced by Flying V . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.