Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Sparrow"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Sparrow"

Conceived and Directed by Nathan Allen
Co-written with Chris Mathews and Jake Minton

Choreography by Tommy Rapley
Projection Design by Lucas Merino
Composer Kevin O'Donnell
Scenic Design by Collette Pollard
Lighting Design by Mark Lanks
Costume Design by Joanna E. Murphy
Sound Design by Michael Griggs
Assistant Stage Manager Laura Kinkaid
Production Stage Manager Josiah George

Emily Book..................Dillan Arrick
Jenny McGrath.............Elizabeth Erwin
Albert McGuckin/ Chorus...Russell Garrett
Dan Christopher/Chorus......Jonathan Popp
Mrs. McGuckin/Chorus........Ilyse Robbins
Chorus...............Michael Ryan Buckley
Chorus..................Nicholas Cacciola
Chorus.....................Samantha Cunha
Chorus..................Steve Gagliastro
Chorus..................Stephen LaMonica
Chorus......................Alycia Sacco
Chorus.......................Jaime Slatt
Chorus........................Ceil Zweil

Comic-book companies these days are busy trying to turn their old familiar "Trade-Marked" characters into movie scripts, and can't be bothered to invent any new heroes. But that's exactly what creator-director Nathan Allen did with "The SPARROW!" And he has brought the result of his collaboration with writers Chris Mathews and Jake Minton and his House Theatre of Chicago, plus his "Projection Designer" Lucas Merino and young star Dillan Arrick, to the Stoneham Theatre. They and an exciting, excited young local cast are enthusiastically creating "an origin-story" and, along the way, inventing new ways to bring the graphic aspects of comic art into play live on stage. Wow.

Lucas Merino's projections bathe the walls and backdrop of the theatre with clouds, but the plot leans heavily on ambiguity. An opening "town-meeting" with comments and questions shouted from the aisles establishes only that Emily Book (Dillan Arrick) will be coming back to town as a high-school student though this orphan is sole survivor of a train-bus collision that killed the entire senior class --- something deliciously hinted-at till late in the play. She's offered a room by the McGuckins (Russell Garrett and Ilyse Robbins), offered help and advice by biology teacher Dan Christopher (Jonathan Popp) and befriended by student-president cheerleader Jenny McGrath (Elizabeth Erwin). None of this thaws the unspoken animosities and suspicions of students nor Emily's own clenched, walking-on-eggshells fear of --- of doing something wrong. Or is it of doing something wrong --- again?

Director Nathan Allen and Scenic Designer Collette Pollard have almost rid the Stoneham stage of scenery while making action flow from place to place. When Mrs. McGukin shows Emily upstairs, Ilyse Robbins holds a model of their house in her arms while lights inside move from room to room. A row of people sitting on chairs becomes a train as a row of chorus flows past with photos of scenery. When either team makes a basket, it's not a piece of scenery but the actions under the lofted ball that make the score obvious. A ringing crossing-bell and a "wind" bowling them over are what make a passing train real. And "flying" or fantasies are mostly Merino's projections of what's inside Emily's head as her clenched body in Joanna E. Murphy's short black raincoat walks hesitantly across the stage.

The beauty of this production is in the fact that everyone but Emily, regardless of age or specific character, is Chorus --- and actors who have percolated up through the Stoneham Theatre "Young Company" alongside tour-veterans (Nicholas Cacciola, Russell Garrett), Stoneham regulars (Steve Gagliastro, Ceit Zweil) and local stars (Michael Ryan Buckley, Jonathan Popp, Ilyse Robbins) all pour out dozens of quick-etched, unique individuals throbbing with life. All it takes is a stance, a line, or a quick-change of costume. (For a basketball-game, actors turn their t-shirts inside-out to switch from the red-jerseyed Sparrows to their hated rivals the beige-jerseyed Hornets.) Adults slip into sloppy-joe sweaters to become students --- with neatly observed high-school attitudes and quips. This isn't the Disney Version --- this is high-school!

But, of course, Emily "The Sparrow" can short-circuit everything with a blast of crackling energy, can "fly" or repair bullet-holes to save lives --- or can paralyze a ring of dodge-ballers ganging-up on her. It's the sudden, spontaneous use of "powers" that's feared, by Emily just as much as everyone else. She's just a kid, just an ordinary book-reading teen-ager longing to fit in. But she is, at least potentially, something else as well. It's the ambiguity that makes this beautifully crafted new play so intensely fascinating.

( a k a larry stark )

"The Sparrow" (22 October - 8 November)
395 Main Street, STONEHAM, MA
1 (781) 279-2200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide