Economy or first class? Glasses or inhaler? Go right or go left? Rather, stay or go at all? I say go—go fast to Escape from Peligro Island: YOU Create Your Own Adventure, a delightfully funny, fully satisfying choose your own adventure production now at Imagination Stage.
Callaway Brown (Dallas Tolentino) is a 12-year-old boy splitting his life between divorced parents residing in Australia and New York. He’s all sorts of pre-teen awkward: a bad haircut, thick-rimmed glasses, and an unfortunate incident with a shiny silver Speedo. We’ve all been there.
While traveling back to New York, he meets a mysterious old man (Aaron Bilden) dressed in turn-of-the-century Safari garb who swaps his plane ticket. Thus, Callaway’s adventure begins and so does the decision-making power of even the tiniest audience member. Should Callaway track the man down and get back his original ticket or should he keep this new one, which is for First-Class, where he can enjoy video games and be served fresh orange juice by an overly attentive flight attendant (Tia Shearer)?
No matter what you choose for the boy, Callaway’s life is about to take a turn—one that involves espionage, some evil bad guys, a plane crash, and an isolated island housing something that could destroy the world or humanity as we know it.
Everything about this show is top notch. The acting (superb!), direction (brava, Kathryn Chase Bryer!), the wit (such clever writing!), the set (an airport that doubles as an evil lair!), and the handling of audience participation (blue and red panels!), which is guided by Tori Tolentino who also jumps in to film scenes close-up which are then projected to perfect effect. Both Shearer and Bilden take on a couple of roles, including narrators who act, almost, as Callaway’s conscious, but they shine in their primary ones: Shearer as all the resident bad guys, including a (potentially) Eastern European henchman with a harpoon who chose this profession when his medical ambitions didn’t pan out, and Bilden as the mysterious man, who we learn is one Giles Fezick, spy extraordinaire. Shearer and Bilden skip through personas with ease and imbue each with laugh-out-loud idiosyncrasies that are good fun for adult and child alike.
Escape from Peligro Island: YOU Create Your Own Adventure at Imagination Stage until May 26, 2019
Details and tickets
“You well and true buttered that pumpkin!” Giles says at one point, which Bilden delivers with a perfect mix of sincerity and deadpan precision. It’s funny for everyone—to the kids, Giles is a strange old man who says nonsensical phrases and to adults he’s pure comic relief, playing on tropes as a buffoon in the vein of Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films. Same for Shearer; she’s a joy for everyone to watch, toying with archetypes in ways adults will know and enjoy while still being silly enough to enchant kids.
Then, there is Tolentino, whose wide-eyed Callaway grows in confidence with a pureness that speaks to kids’ trying to gain footing in new situations and environments. His athleticism also comes in handy in a fun martial arts fight scene and, just generally, whenever he’s in a pickle that requires physical solutions, which is often (plane crash! underwater caves! the deep blue ocean!).
This is a cast to love and appreciate, especially since this show could veer in almost any direction (there are four main adventures). Can’t be easy going on stage everyday not fully sure which plot points you’ll be following. Fortunately, they do it with aplomb and the show has an element of pretend-play in nearly every facet (the use of actual toys!), which masks any rough spots.
I would say this production skews on the older side when it comes to kids, as some of it could be hard to follow for the wee ones—the choosing option, for example—but this was the buzziest audience I have been amongst. At intermission, there was lots of chatter about what Callaway should do next; the kids have a truly vested interest in his trajectory. It was lovely to overhear some of the reasonings.
Really, truly, sincerely—Escape from Peligro Island is super fun for the whole family.
Escape from Peligro Island: YOU Create Your Own Adventure . Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Featuring Aaron Bliden, Tia Shearer, Dallas Tolentino, and Tori Tolentino. Production: Dallas Tolentino, Co-Movement Director; Tori Tolentino, Co-Movement Director; Nate Sinnott, Scenic Designer; Kiana Vincenty, Costume Director; Lauren Gallup, Lighting Designer; Matt Otto, Sound Designer and Composer; Deborah Jacobson, Music Director; Sarah Tundermann, Projections Designer; Austin Conlee, Assistant Costume Designer; Jacob Hughes, Assistant Lighting Designer; and Timothy Sutton, Assistant Projections Designer. Stage Managed by Hope Villanueva. Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.