nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
March 5, 2011
Remember when merely exploring the garage was the adventure of a lifetime? Ah, youth.
Did you ever find anything good? Boxes of old clothing or photo albums? Old 45s? A grumpy man with a penchant for Chinese food?
What was that last one? A grumpy man with a penchant for Chinese food? Well, that’s what 10-year-old Matthew finds when he goes exploring the garage in the house his family just moved into. But who is this mysterious, arthritic man with a large, mysterious growth on his back?
This question is the basic premise of Skellig, David Almond’s play for young adults based on his novel of the same name, now being presented at the New Victory Theater by England’s Birmingham Stage Company.
I say “young adult” because that’s who the piece is geared for, not the young children accustomed to the New Victory’s standard programming of vaudevillian performers, puppeteers, musical shows, etc. This is more along the lines of Coram Boy, a disturbing play geared for children about adoption and child cruelty. Skellig, which explores the possibilities of angels walking among us, is far tamer and far more appropriate, but still not for the wee ones, who will probably be bored by how much talking there is, or have a hard time understanding the dialect.
Older kids, like the surly teens behind me, will likely be bored also. They’ll have a hard time with the dialects and buying into the idea of actors playing multiple roles, or just plain won’t care for the story, which also involves Michael’s baby sister fighting for life after being born too early. They will, however, likely be entranced by the stage craft. Jacqueline Trousdale’s junk pile set and Jason Taylor’s lighting are pure eye candy. Even the skeptics were in awe during one beautiful moment in the otherwise plodding second half.
Though I wasn’t bowled over, I certainly found the piece to be sweetly entertaining, without veering too far into the sentimental. It’s certainly well acted by a cast that also provides live folk music on guitars, violins, and a flute. Dean Logan and Charlotte Sanderson expertly channel their inner children (while not overdoing it) as Michael and his new best friend Mina. Neal Foster, BSC’s actor/manager, is nicely nuanced as the mysterious man whose name we eventually learn is Skellig.
Director Phil Clark could afford to pick up the pacing in the second act, which starts to languish after 10 minutes. Still, it contains a simple, visually stunning sequence that makes admission worth it, at least for people who enjoy breathtaking design.