This DC theater season, several mid-sized theaters are delving into a trend recently popular among the bigger houses: remounting popular productions of previous years. Usually these shows spice the remount up with a twist of casting or design, but are sure not to twist too much to make the production unrecognizable.
Hotly anticipated Neverwhere, Rorschach’s stage adaptation of a Neil Gaiman TV series and novel, receives this treatment now as producers try to turn a DC stage hit into a repeatable classic.
Smart choice from Artistic Directors Jenny McConnell Frederick (director of Neverwhere as well) and Randy Baker. Geeky tinged with weird and a little creepiness is not only Rorschach’s aesthetic, but it’s also a pop culture trend that shows no signs of slowing down as passionately freaky young Millennials turn into nostalgically freaky middle-aged Millennials with money. Plus as Joss Whedon has been newly knocked off the dark-enough-to-be-exciting-yet-safe-enough-for-Mom pedestal (by a hit piece from his now ex-wife), Gaiman lounges exclusively atop that nerdy throne.
Certainly the opening night crowd, none of whom (including myself) would feel out of place at a Renaissance Faire or BDSM club, was set abuzz by Rorschach’s redux of a play whose original in 2013 this website rated as “Highly Recommended.”
More than the play’s context though, this urban fantasy tale of a work-a-day Scottish financial advisor pulled into a paranormal version of London (London Below) by a woman with magic powers and a bloody past simply works as storytelling. You might find them too bland to fall in love with, but Richard Mayhew and Door (with roles repeated from the previous iteration by Daniel Corey and Sarah Taurchini) sure know how to work the right leading angles to make a story structure on which to hang the juicy and fun bits of Neverwhere: the spectacle and the side characters.
Spectacle is almost always a key for Rorschach, experts in constructing a captivating world from a mid-sized budget. No exception for Neverwhere where Pixelumen Labs’ audience-enveloping set and projections provide for no perfect seats but great immersion in the sewer environment the play spends most of its time in.
Even more impressive are the play’s multitudinous costumes, all appropriately skin-crawling in a well-conceived tra-chic style by Sydney Moore and Deb Sivigny. The London Below costumes give off a half neopagan, half Dresden Dolls vibe of “I’m super classy and wearing many different fabrics, yet I also smell bad and may possibly kill you.” Veronica J. Lancaster’s hyper-creepy sound rounds out the grimy landscape, though Cory Ryan Frank’s lights miss some opportunities in this admittedly difficult space. Part of the trouble with a spectacle-driven show is that when one part of the spectacle lacks, it becomes easy to compare those moments to the ones that do.
closes October 1, 2017
Details and tickets
Much of this spectacular fodder seems repeated from the previous round of Neverwhere. But what isn’t repeated, and what really grabs attention in this long epic are London Below’s supporting characters, many of whom are played by new actors. Instant faves are the villains Croup (Robert Bowen Smith) and Vandermar (Lee Liebeskind), who have got a queerish fop/thug and otter/bear vibe that gives this production life. Megan Reichelt flexes her actor-combatant muscles (with more emphasis on the latter) as Hunter. Most fun is the several times when she and Liebeskind scrap onstage, since their IRL marriage seems to have added some zing to their blows. Returners include Cam Magee as an angel and Grady Weatherford as the rapscallion Marquis de Carabas whose lines have a well-practiced punch.
Also notable are less successful elements of the previous production that remain unchanged. The rights holders of Neverwhere may be one of those who refuse all permissions to cut a script (fun fact: all copyrighted scripts must be given written permission to be altered in any way), but the sometimes attention-taxing 3 hour length of this production makes a strong argument for a cut. Also, Neverwhere is not for the hard of hearing or sensitive of back. The thoroughly-used immersive set means that your head must always be on the swivel for scenes happening in unexpected or difficult to perceive areas, and if you happen to be far from a more intimate scene, you will almost certainly lose some of the dialogue.
But I’ll take the wow factor over a couple of missed lines any day. Neverwhere oozes spectacle, sometimes literally, and transports audiences into a world all its own, yet familiar enough to Gaiman fans. If you want a ticket to fantastical London Below, that ticket will read “Neverwhere, presented by Rorschach Theatre.”