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I was a "psychonaut librarian” as a child without even knowing it. My grandparents’ house was only two blocks from the beautifully built, stunning Coral Gables Library in South Miami, Florida.

 

I spent all my spare time there, drinking in the smell of library books and wisdom. Each new book I read seemed to open a new world for me. First, they were fantasy worlds, like The Phantom Tollbooth, later I began to read more and more about psychology and self-help, each time hoping that the book in my hands would offer an insight into having the happy, successful dreamy life I imagined lay ahead.  Yes, I was a shy, gentle book nerd, and I felt often that reading was the answer to all my problems. 

 

Sean Kelly's "Psychonaut Librarians", now in a world premiere with The New Colony is a funny, delightful poetically phrased tale about a mother and daughter and their fellow book worm friends discovering magical worlds at the library. 

 

Librarian Hester, played with both warmth and biting wit by David Cerda (Artistic Director of the hugely popular campy Hell in a Handbag Productions), is trying to save her daughter Jane (Christine Mayland Perkins) from giving up on her dreams and into society's constant fear creating machine. Hester a single mother to Jane, greets her with the single revealing question about her ex, "How is Daddy? Still suffocatingly small-minded?".

 

Hester has developed a potion that allows her to go all the way into the fantasy world of reading into a place she calls "Anyverse" where anything can happen and dreams do not die without a fight. 

 

Hester shares the potion with her grown daughter one night and while in the Anyverse Jane meets a lover named Dewey, played with much joy by Matt Farabee, a handsome Christ-like figure of love and innocence.  

 

In each other's arms Jane finds true love. They dance and fly through the Anyverse on a beautifully lit, ever changing, yet intimate, stage. Dewey tells Jane the ultimate romantic verse, "{In Jane) I found what I did not even know I was looking for and in finding her, I found myself," Jane stares into his loving, smiling face and states that this meeting is one of the "perfect moments” that she will add to her sadly short list of perfect moments. 

 

But of course, as in "real" life, the enjoyment of freedom of life and love in the Anyverse is threatened by an evil force called The Sandman played with the proper amount of military, know it all, fear inducing power by Jack McCabe.

 

The Sandman has the ability to literally suck the soul out of each human by drawing out their worst fears and causing them to act on them instead of holding fast to positive thinking. 

 

Despite their obviously great and perfect matching Dewey flip flops helplessly from loving adoration to murderous hatred for Jane in an instant and begins to strangle Jane each time The Sandman makes him insecure about her love by sending him negative subconscious suggestions. 

 

Jane's mother Hester sees this pattern of abuse and danger to her daughter and makes the ultimate sacrifice by chasing the Sandman away with the promise that she will not ALLOW her daughter to awaken from the dreary, fear filled thought patterns of everyday earth "reality" into the Anyverse ...ever again. 

 

When Jane is awakened from the Anyverse by her mother and is forced to part with Dewey, Jane becomes bitter about life and retreats from taking chances, creativity, or really falling in love and trying new things to follow the strict societal mores dictated by The Sandman about choosing work and security above joyous spontaneity.

 

Sadly, this division leads Jane to become estranged from her own loving, creative mother and the library itself, a symbol of the power of imagination - for 20 years.

 

Jane is inexplicably drawn to the library on the eve of her mother's retirement, where Hester’s fellow Psychonaut Librarians have arranged a "potion" party to enter the Anyverse all together. 

 

Hester's fellow librarians, the stiff-necked Emmerick (Michael Peters) and hopeful, brainy free spirit, Rosemary (Morgan McNaught) and the library's "security guy" (Carlos Olmedo), who also ends up drinking the spiked punch, are all played with excellent comic timing, and their scenes are some of the funniest and most clever dialogue in the show. 

 

This hopeful, desperate for magic crew of psychonauts enter the Anyverse together and immediately each is tested by the dreams, or rather nightmares, of their own worst fears of failure.

 

There are puppets used to represent the fearful dreams and perfected in a clever bit where the puppets are used to represent the characters’ abilities to walk through walls or make themselves small enough to escape a demon dream through a crack in a solid wall. Hester makes a great sacrifice to help rescue them all. 

 

The great thing is that each character, no matter how weak their "punches or kicks' may be, are forced to physically take a stand and fight! Each character must really wrestle and fight to defeat their bad dreams and thought patterns. 

 

In the end, Jane returns to the library without her lover Dewey - but with a newfound belief in the power of magic, and the existence of magic itself. Magic that is ALIVE right there alongside her in the library of life - and the reality of alternate positive realms, exciting realities beyond her own. 

 

Director Krissy Vanderwarker does the best she can on a limited budget to create a romantic pacing and lovely, magical choreography for Jane and Dewey that transitions well into the more comical present day or fantasy scenes. 

 

Kelly's script has gone thru many cuts over the years but is approaching a more perfect balance between what is both a supernatural love story and an "Universal" love story that boldly, yet sensitively, declares the existence of an alternate reality based entirely on love. 

 

The line, "I found what I did not even know I was looking for!  And in finding her, I found myself" kept haunting me after the show ended, as did several of the poetic speeches delivered by Jane to Dewey while sharing flowing descriptions of the deliciousness of their loving, soaring, literally "flying" in each other's arms new love... in words. These scenes were very well written and sometimes seemed like they belonged in an entirely different show. 

 

The character of Dewey, with his shoulder length dirty blonde hair, casual hoody, sandals and all-encompassing smile is best interpreted as a Christ figure, a non-sexual person, a teacher and guru of unconditional love living forever in the Anyverse. Dewey was not supposed to become a human man whose sexual partnership in the "real" world or like a Prince in a fairy tale whose marriage to Jane would effortlessly make her life into an adventure or positivity and magic. 

 

The playwright makes it clear to the end that the daily decision to hold tightly to and fight for her own dreams is up to Jane herself, which is as it should be.

 

Before the show began, the artistic director came out and mentioned how MANY scripts they have been receiving as of late, eluding to the election of Trump (The Sandman himself?), from new writers and how EAGER artists now are to have their words HEARD.

 

I highly recommend this funny, romantic, hopeful show for audiences of any age. “Psychonaut Librarians” would also make a valuable children's theater piece.

 

"Your soul is not living inside your body; your body is living inside your soul.” 

 

For heart weary adult Democrats like myself who are literally praying for a magical happy ending to what appears to be a complete takeover of millions of American minds by the evil Sandman, “Psychonaut Librarians” offered me a wonderful evening of hope, encouragement and rainbow lit entertainment. 

 

New Colony’s “Psychonaut Librarians” is playing at Den Theatre through February 12th. For more show information of to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The New Colony is pleased to announce its full 2017 Season, featuring four world premiere productions by four Chicago playwrights. The season kicks off this winter with ensemble member Sean Kelly’s fantasy adventure PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS, directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. In the spring, TNC presents Connor McNamara’s political thriller SCAPEGOAT; OR (WHY THE DEVIL ALWAYS LOVED US), directed by Kristina Valada-Viars followed by a summer production of Beth Kander’s Kentucky-lore saga THE BLUE, directed by Tony Horne. The season concludes next fall with Michael Allen Harris’ prison drama PUNK, directed by Diana Raiselis. The full 2017 season will be presented at The New Colony’s resident home The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets will go on sale at a later date. For additional information, visit www.thenewcolony.org. 

 

Comments The New Colony Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder, “We are thrilled that this season kicks off with the newest creation by ensemble member Sean Kelly. We are equally excited that our other three 2017 playwrights and all four of our directors will be making their New Colony debuts this year. These extraordinary creative teams are filling our ninth season with four world premieres that remind us why The New Colony exists in the first place: New Art, New Artists, New Audiences.”

 

The New Colony’s 2017 Season includes:

 

January 11 – February 11, 2017

PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS – World Premiere!

Written by Sean Kelly

Directed by Krissy Vanderwarker

 

The library is closed. The curtains are drawn. A Bunsen burner flicks on in the dark. The librarians sip their glowing elixir and the room spins with color and light. One more time. One last fight at the barrier between realiy... and the anyverse.

 

April 5 – May 7, 2017

SCAPEGOAT; OR (WHY THE DEVIL ALWAYS LOVED US) – World Premiere!

Written by Connor McNamara

Directed by Kristina Valada-Viars

 

When a story leaks revealing he is secretly a Satanist, an idealistic Senator perched for a Judicial Appointment grapples with his family, The Christian Right, and his daughter-in-law (supposedly) returned from the dead, in order to save his life and his legacy.

 

July 12 – August 13, 2017

THE BLUE – World Premiere!

Written by Beth Kander

Directed by Tony Horne

 

The Alexander sisters of Worried Creek, Kentucky, have it rough. The eldest, April, a pregnant prize-fighter, refuses to reveal the identity of her unborn baby's father; the youngest, May, is dead (though a very talkative ghost); and the brilliant middle sister June was born with the family curse: bright blue skin. But June hasn't abandoned hope. She writes daily to a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, a man she believes can cure her... but when he shows up at their doorstep, each of the sisters’ lives (and deaths) take unexpected turns.

 

October 4 – November 5, 2017

PUNK – World Premiere!

Written by Michael Allen Harris

Directed by Diana Raiselis

 

Set in a maximum-security prison in present day America, Punk is the story of a group of inmates who are protected and housed in a special unit for gay, bisexual and transgender inmates. Tensions rise when Travis, a young man sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a gay man, requests to transfer into the unit. Fear and suspicion hover over the inmates who call this unit home.  Currently in development in The New Colony's Associate Company Intensive Program, Punk will receive a two-week workshop production in December of 2016 before its world premiere in the fall of 2017.

 

About The Playwrights & Directors

 

Sean Kelly (Playwright, Psychonaut Librarians) is a Chicago-born writer and director. He is currently leading a collaboration of nearly 50 artists in the creation 100 new stories – deep stories told in silly ways. He has written and directed at Porchlight Music Theatre, Victory Gardens, Collaboraction, The Old Town School of Folk Music and his home, The New Colony.

 

Krissy Vanderwarker (Director, Psychonaut Librarians) is a freelance director most recently of Thaddeus & Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure at Lookingglass. She is also the Co-Artistic Director of Dog & Pony Theatre Co. D&P directing credits include: Breach, Counterfeiters, The Dinner Party Project, God’s Ear, As Told by the Vivian Girls, Mr. Marmalade, Ape, Osama the Hero, Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) and As Much As You Can. Other professional directing credits include: Harry & The Thief (Pavement Group), The Grown-Up (Shattered Globe), CLEAR (About Face Theatre), What Once We Felt (About Face Theatre) and As Much As You Can (Hendel Productions West). She graduated with her MFA in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University and is on faculty there now. krissyvanderwarker.com 

 

Connor McNamara (Playwright, Scapegoat; or (Why The Devil Always Loved Us) Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Connor has lived and worked in Chicago for the past five years. His stage work was most-recently seen during the Chicago Home Theatre Festival; his prose published in ink&coda Magazine, as well as shortlisted for The Aeon Award. As an actor, Connor has worked with The Griffin Theatre, Marry-Arrchie Theatre Co., Step Up Productions, among others. He is a graduate of Kent State University and The School at Steppenwolf. 

 

Kristina Valada-Viars  (Director, Scapegoat; or (Why The Devil Always Loved Us) appeared in a benefit reading of The Warriors with The New Colony. Scapegoat will be her Chicago directing debut. She has worked on new play development projects with New Dramatists in New York and workshop productions with American Theatre Company, About Face, Goodman Theater and others.  Chicago acting credits include The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence (Theater Wit), The Diary of Anne Frank (Writers Theatre); The Great God Pan (Next Theatre); Completeness (Theater Wit) and Pony (About Face Theatre). She also served as Assistant Director on The Matchmaker (Goodman Theatre) and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (Theater Wit). Ms. Valada-Viars’ other New York credits include original productions of Monstrosity (13P); Love Drunk (Abingdon Theatre Company); The Music Teacher (New Group) and 516 (New York International Fringe Festival). Her film and television credits include Molly's Girl (Best Actress in a Feature, Iris Prize Film Festival), Written Off (Amazon Prime) The Door in the Floor, BlackBox, Shameless, Law & Order: CI and Animal Husbandry. Upcoming: The Burials at Steppenwolf. She is also currently working in the field of Audience Design and Artist/Audience Engagement with Theater Wit.

 

Beth Kander (Playwright, The Blue) is a Chicago-based writer with Southern and Midwestern roots. Recent playwriting awards and activities include Ashland New Plays Festival (2016 & 2015), The Ruckus’ 2016 summer festival, BechdelFest 2016, The Kilroys List (Honorable Mentions 2016 & 2015), The Writers Room at The New Colony, Leapfest 2015, Downstage Left Residency, Charles M. Getchell New Play Award and three Eudora Welty New Play Awards. She has scripts represented by Stage Rights in Los Angeles and Chicago Dramaworks. In addition to playwriting, Kander writes novels, screenplays and children's literature. She is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women, and has degrees from Brandeis University and the University of Michigan www.facebook.com/bybethkander

 

Tony Horne (Director, The Blue) A proud native of Memphis, Tony is currently freelance stage director and an Associate Professor/Head of Musical Theatre at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.  His work encompasses theatre education, arts management, performance, direction and choreography. Tony’s directing credits include both plays and musicals. Career highlights include directing Once on This Island (the inaugural production for the new Hattiloo Theatre building in Memphis), the world premiere of the Theatre for Young Audiences version of The Wiz (First Stage, Milwaukee, WI), winning Ostrander Awards (Memphis Theatre Award) for Direction of a Musical for The Color Purple (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN) and The Wiz (Hattiloo Theatre, Memphis, TN), and directing the Mid-South regional premieres of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN), Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop (Hattiloo Theatre/Circuit Playhouse, Memphis, TN) and Lee Breuer & Bob Telson’s The Gospel at Colonus (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN). Tony holds a BFA in Musical Theatre Dance from the United States International University (now Alliant International), an MBA in Arts Management from UCLA and an MFA in Directing from the University of Memphis.

 

Michael Allen Harris (Playwright, Punk) As a playwright, Michael has collaborated with Chicago theatre companies such as Broken Nose Theatre, Jackalope Theatre, Arc Theatre, Stage 773, Fine Print Theatre, Chicago Home Theater Festival and The New Colony. His play, Rocky Road, received its world premiere at the New Studio Theatre of Columbia College Chicago in March of 2013. It was the first production featured in the Main Stage season that was authored by an alumnus. His play, The Velvet Tabernacle, was featured in a development series on behalf of Fine Print Theatre. His most recent play, Kingdom, is currently involved in a season-long development on behalf of Broken Nose Theatre and received its first stage reading at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater. In February 2016, he was part of The New Colony’s Writer’s Room and completed the first draft of his full-length play Ascension. His short plays include: House of Samurai, They Let Him Bleed, Project Agatha and The Woman Who Stared into the Eyes of The Red Horseman. As an actor, Michael worked with Adventure Stage, Eclipse Theatre, Gift Theatre, Teatro Vista, The-Massive, Stone Soup Theatre Project, Infusion Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre and Cold Basement Dramatics. He was nominated for a BTAA for his performance as Fortune in Eclipse Theatre’s Jeff-nominated production of Ruined. He is a proud ensemble member of Eclipse Theatre Company and proudly represented by Lily’s Talent. 

 

Diana Raiselis (Director, Punk) is a Chicago-based director and community event producer.  Recent directing projects include Resolution (Pride Films & Plays), Punk (workshop production, The New Colony), THIRST: a climate change theater action (Jackalope) and festival premieres with Collaboraction, Jackalope, Prologue and Buzz22 Chicago. As a producer, she co-curates Slaymaker Loft's occasional new-work series party/theater/party, and has served on producing teams for events at Pritzker Pavilion, the Steppenwolf Garage and site-specific locations around Chicago. Proud alumna of Northwestern University and the Steppenwolf Professional Leadership Program. www.dianaraiselis.com

 

About The New Colony

 

The New Colony develops New Art and New Artists in order to educate and build New Audiences.

 

Founded in 2008, The New Colony has already established itself as “one of Chicago’s essential off-Loop companies” (Chicago Tribune). Through the premiere of over twenty-five world premiere plays and musicals, The New Colony has cultivated a diverse audience of theatergoers eager to have a voice in the storytelling. Conversation, collaboration and innovation remain at the heart of everything they produce. The New Colony’s work has been honored with four Non-Equity Jeff Awards, Broadway in Chicago’s 2011 Emerging Theatre Award and Best Overall Production at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival. The New Colony’s 2017 Season marks their third year as a resident company in the Upstairs Mainstage of The Den Theatre in Wicker Park.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 05:00

The Grown-Up - Shattered Globe Theatre

In today’s culture of OnDemand and streaming entertainment, one has to wonder how theatre art will adapt. Accomplished playwright Jordan Harrison also currently writes for the hit Netflix series ‘Orange is the New Black.’ Nobody can argue that Mr. Harrison hasn’t mastered the one-hour drama format, but what we can argue is whether or not that form works in theatre. Often when audiences stand and applaud even poor performances, they’re standing to congratulate themselves, to say we did it! We spent money and sat still for two hours! It’s over! Are we cultured now? Despite the convenience of home entertainment, people still go to the theatre to be intellectually stimulated and even challenged, they expect the playwright to uphold his end of the bargain.

At the conclusion of Shattered Globe’s production of Harrison’s play ‘The Grown-Up’, an audience of albeit mostly theatre critics was pretty quiet. This is usually an achievement for a playwright whose work has left its audience stunned. In this case, it was an audience left without an impression, and without enough material to commend themselves for sitting through.

‘The Grown-Up’ tells the story of Actor A, or Kai (Keven Viol) who’s grandfather, Actor B (Ben Werling) gives him a magic door-knob with which he can fast forward to the unpleasant and unfulfilling realities of his adulthood. Safely packaged in a chronological structure, we see the very brief disappointments and adult anxieties that await little Kai.  While these scenes have glimmers of relatability, they’re too short to invest in character and instead come off as series of clichés.  Rather than relying on dialog to explain how these moments of Kai’s life are fraught with meaning, we’re lazily told by various narrators. The script capitalizes on too many trendy devices, but doesn’t validate their necessity.

Shattered Globe has the talent to justify the one-hour run time of this play. Director Krissy Vanderwarker’s aesthetic inserts some personality to this static drama.  Actor D (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) plays a few of roles, but really becomes a focal point of the play as a secretary trying to keep up in life. Gonzales-Cruz provides most of the laughs and the most intriguing performance.

Plays like ‘The Grown-Up’ are part of a growing trend in American playwriting that protect themselves in metaphysical chow-chow so that if you don’t like it, you just didn’t get it. What counts in a live performance is what the audience takes away, and if there’s not enough script to resonate with a viewer, what’s the point?

@ Shattered Globe Theatre. 1229 W Belmont. 773-975-8150. Through May 23rd

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