Blue Barn Conjures Up a Magical Night with “The Grown-Up”

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A ten year old boy discovers a magic crystal doorknob that allows him to jump forward in his own lifespan.  As he experiences the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of adulthood, he finds that he wants nothing more than to return to being a child.  This is The Grown-Up by Jordan Harrison which is the inaugural production for the Blue Barn Theatre at its new home at 10th and Pacific Streets.

The ethereal quality of this show really compels the viewer to watch it with a bit of childlike wonder to fully appreciate its magic.  I could watch this play each and every night of its run and I would come away with a different interpretation each and every time.  Is it really happening?  Is it a story?  If so, whose story?  Kai’s?  The grandfather’s?  The cabin boy’s?  Is it a metaphor?  The reality is that the answer is unimportant as the truth of the story will be what each audience member makes of it and that is the wonder and the beauty of this piece.

Susan Clement-Toberer has done a masterful job of directing this tale.  The staging is some of the finest I’ve seen in an Omaha production.  The pace is spot-on.  Most importantly, Ms Clement-Toberer has cast the play exceptionally well.  This play is the very definition of an ensemble piece, requiring each role to be precisely cast and for each member of the cast to have a specific chemistry with the others.  And, believe me, this cast fires on all cylinders with a group performance that was unerringly accurate.

Matt Karasek makes his Blue Barn debut as Actor A and primarily plays the role of Kai.  His physicality and vocal work is astonishing as Kai ages with each turn of the doorknob.  In one moment he’s a slightly obnoxious ten year old, in another he’s lamenting about his imminent arrival at middle age, finally he’s a crotchety old man bedeviled by the infirmities of old age.  Yet all the while, Karasek’s beautifully sincere delivery brings the audience along on his emotional ride as he desperately wants nothing more than to be a boy again.

I have finally discovered the one thing Megan Friend cannot do.  She cannot give a bad performance.  Ms Friend once again proves she is one of Omaha’s top rising talents with her turn as Actor D.  With a droop in her shoulders and a dash of husk to her voice, she is Kai’s grandmother, calmly stitching away while being slightly exasperated by Grandfather as he tells another of his tall tales.  Suddenly her posture is ramrod straight, her voice bright and perky, and her movements robotically precise as she becomes the secretary to a TV executive.  Her Adderall addiction clearly does not make a dent in her ADHD and, Lord, does she have an ego, though she tries to hide it.  A quick change in hairstyle and she is Paola, the kindly and attentive nurse to the aged Kai.  Ms Friend’s acting was a supreme bit of character work and a highlight of the night.

Jerry Longe’s considerable comedic skills are used to their fullest potential as Actor E.  His voice just drips with a charming insincerity when he’s a TV exec listening to Kai’s pitch for a new TV series.  Longe’s turn as an effeminate, overwrought wedding planner had the audience chuckling merrily.  He is even allowed a bit of seriousness as a mysterious caretaker of magic who may or may not be the force behind the crystal doorknob.

Katie Otten delights in her Blue Barn debut as Actor B.  She is primarily featured as Annabelle, Kai’s younger sister.  As the child version of Annabelle, Ms Otten is a hoot with her bratty nature as she repeatedly schools Kai in gin rummy and tattles on him when he tells her to shut up.  Her love for Kai increases with her maturity as she searches for Kai after he’s taken away by the doorknob.  Ms Otten makes for a delightful old lady as she struggles with her walker to give a eulogy for Kai.

Nick Albrecht excels as the enigmatic Actor F.  Albrecht not only has a rich and powerful baritone that is a storyteller’s dream, but he knows how to use it to the utmost.  Albrecht’s primary role is that of a fisherman who was once a cabin boy on a pirate ship and sets the legacy of the doorknob in motion.  Albrecht has a gift for underplaying which makes everything he touches very, very real.  One can feel the loneliness and sadness of the cabin boy when he loses a friend and father figure during a terrible storm.  Albrecht also creates some tender moments with Karasek when they share some pillow talk about Kai’s aging.

I truly do not believe there is a role that Nils Haaland cannot play to perfection.  As Actor C, he plays roles that are as diverse as possible.  He starts the play as a somewhat doddering old grandfather weaving fantastic tales for Kai.  In the blink of an eye, he becomes the first mate of the pirate ship and patiently trains the young cabin boy and takes him under his wing as a surrogate son.  Then he’s Kai’s fiancée, gleefully engaging in banter with him on their wedding day.

This is one of those shows where all of the elements come together to create something truly special.  Not only do the directing and acting hit the marks, but Martin Scott Marchitto’s simple set of boxes and tables with a few everyday objects hanging from the ceiling open the mind to imagination.  Carol Wisner’s lighting not only enhances the story, but is some of the best I’ve seen in a production.  Martin Magnuson’s sound design brings the audience deeper and deeper into the tale, especially with his storm sound effects.

The Grown-Up invites the audience to use their imagination and I would highly recommend to not overthink on what you are watching otherwise you will miss out on its true beauty.

The Grown-Up runs at the Blue Barn Theatre through October 18.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and 6pm on Sundays.  Please note there is no performance on September 27.  Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of 10 or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 from 10am-4pm Mon-Fri or visit their website at www.bluebarn.org.  The Blue Barn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

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