MUSE OF FIRE
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
Muse of Fire, the new play by Kelly McAllister (author of last
year’s FringeNYC hit Last Call), is wise, warm, and wonderful. It
tells the story of two muses, Dion and Paulina, who are sent to earth by
their boss Carlos to encourage a young college student named Emily to
write the world-changing novel that is apparently her destiny. So Dion
and Paulina, who are as different as night and day, or yin and yang—he’s
a spontaneous, life-affirming, live-in-the-moment kind of guy; while she
is the hard-headed, hard-hearted, logical, pragmatic kin of her
Shakespearean namesake from The Winter’s Tale—head down for a 40-day
sojourn on Earth.
August 15, 2003
What an eventful and important forty days they turn out to be! Eventful because Dion and Paulina assume human form as students at San Jose State College, where they join Emily in the cast of a cockeyed production of As You Like It, which is being directed by an enervated, extroverted lunatic named Cassandra, and whose cast includes a young man named Mick with whom Emily is in love, his current (very jealous) girlfriend Jessie, and a clownish young charmer named Lenny. Complications—of all kinds—ensue.
Important because, well, everything’s important, which is in fact the essence of this gorgeous, profound play. McAllister mines Shakespeare, pop culture (everyone from The Banana Splits to Keyser Soze), theatre lore, and the collective wisdom of the ages to create a beautiful and thoughtful paean to life, death, love, and memory. Within his own little wooden O, McAllister (who is also Muse of Fire’s director) reminds us what it means to be human, in all its foolish, painful, glorious glory.
He’s also brought together an ensemble of nine actors whose equal we would be lucky to see on any stage, let alone elsewhere at FringeNYC. Jack Halpin and Sara Thigpen are excellent as Dion and Paulina—Halpin’s goofily hilarious, yet somehow anchored by disarming goodwill, while Thigpen, in solid counterpoint, is tightly wound, smart, with overflowing heart just beneath the surface. R. Paul Hamilton is delightfully sly as their superior in the afterlife, Carlos, while the extraordinarily assured Heather McAllister is a force of nature as the play’s other parent figure, Cassandra. Jackie Kamm centers the play sweetly and firmly as Emily. Brett Christensen (Mick), Christine Goodman (Jessie), and Vinnie Penna (Lenny) are all splendid, and Jerry McAllister is terrific as Cassandra’s put-upon assistant/stage manager, Phil.
All in all, a feast for the heart and soul, all about shape-shifters and liars and broken hearts and sheer happiness and, yes, a muse of fire. It’s the loveliest new play I’ve seen in quite a while; don’t miss it.