jonPlaywright: William Massolia, adaptor
At: Griffin Theatre at
Theatre Building Chicago
Phone: ( 773 ) 327-5252; $15-$23
Runs through: June 26
It was a double-header fantasy weekend with consecutive openings of the sci-fi Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe at the House Theatre ( reviewed in this issue ) and Stardust, the first show in a year from Griffin Theatre and the follow-up to their delightful mega-hit Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging. Like that show, Stardust is adapted from a British novel, this time Neil Gaiman's fantasy romance about a young man who's half-mortal and half-fairy ( shades of Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe ) . Straddling the two worlds of his parentage, Tristan completes a classic journey quest through which he earns the love of a fallen star in human form, finds his mother and gains a prince's crown.
Were it not for one discreetly played sex tryst and several scenes of violence and murder, Stardust could be a kids' show ( its length not withstanding ) with fairies, witches, spells, humanoid trees and bibbity-bobbity-boo transformations of man-to-mouse. Whatever was unique, forceful or particularly adult in Gaiman's original novel seems to have fallen by the wayside in William Massolia's adaptation. It's not dull or without charm, it's just that the devices are familiar and the narrative voice lacks distinction or even freshness. Frankly, treating the sex and violence more graphically might have made Stardust far more adult, horrifying and special. As it is, it comes across as superficial storytelling with plenty of literary themes but little emotional depth.
It's not the fault of the company, under director Dorothy Milne ( borrowed from Lifeline Theatre where she's an old hand at the costume genre ) . Given half a chance, they relish the opportunities to play true exaggerations. Vanessa Greenway and Karyn Morris are splendid witches attempting to out-spell each other. Jon Stutzman is delightful in a clever bit of trompe-l'oeil stagecraft as a long-bearded dwarf. A trio of ghosts creates the illusion of things passing through them. Kevin Kingston is a boyishly stalwart and naive hero. Jennifer Grace is an attractive—if shallow—fallen star with a broken leg. Edward Beck is wry as a cranky gatekeeper.
Milne and her designers use a variety of devices, among them masks and puppets, to tell the tale, which is played against a Gorey-esque backdrop of black-and-white trees all spiky, angular and cartoon-like as designed by J Branson. Kevin D. Gawley supplied the skillful lighting. Kimberly G. Morris created the costumes and masks, which colorfully bridge the gap between the Edwardian era of the mortal world and the timeless fairy kingdom.
But it just isn't enough. It's a pleasant fantasy romance—although a bit too long—but not particularly memorable. It's as if Griffin—which earns its meat and potatoes from amazingly successful touring shows for kids—didn't want to go where the material might lead them.