Wednesday, July 02, 2014

"Kav and Clay" is a special event! It's a five-hour event and that shouldn't stop you for a minute!

Frank Boyd, Opal Peachey, David Goldstein in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (photo by John Ulman)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Book-It Repertory Theatre
Adapted by Jeff Schwager
Directed by Myra Platt
Starring Frank Boyd, David Goldstein, Opal Peachey

One of the most amazing aspects of the history of comic books is who the major creators of this quintessential “American” art form turn out to be: New York-based Jews! Similar to the confounding aspect of American musical theater, replete with Jews and gays or Jewish gays, comic books were mainly conceived of and developed by Jewish men. Did they inject something into the water there?

Michael Chabon wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,  a sprawling history of two fictional cousins, Joe Kavalier, a Polish escapee from Nazi occupation in 1939, who comes to stay with Sammy Clay (nee Clayman), a comic book lover who aspires to emulate Superman’s creators success. It turns out Joe can really draw, and Sammy can really create great stories, in a match made in buddy-story-heaven.

Turning his far-ranging book into a Book-It style production was gutsy and overwhelming. Deciding to give it a four hour run time was almost inexplicable. Would audiences accept an epic evening of theater that includes two intermissions and a meal break? The answer is, “YES!” Virtually all the reviews and word of mouth, so far, have been positive and encouraging.

I, too, chime in with praise, awe, and pleasure. A key ingredient to the success of the evening is casting the cousins. Frank Boyd (Kavalier) and David Goldstein (Clay) are a pleasure to watch. Both of them bring the young boys to life and age them into complex adult men with uncomfortable life issues they each have to cope with. Boyd adds the whole other element of magic to his performance and pulls that off beautifully, as well. Kavalier has come from a circus performer family, so magic and escapism a la Houdini are part of his background.

Opal Peachey as the woman in their lives (along with a couple of other characters) is beautiful and alluring as the Jewish woman of privilege whose consciousness of the plight of others makes her much more than a socialite. Rosa Saks uses her position of privilege to try to save Jewish children in Poland from the Nazis.

The huge ensemble includes many great performances, including Robert Hinds as a gay man who sees his reflection in Sammy’s character and helps Sammy accept himself. Nate Kelderman is a poignant younger brother, Thomas.

The production is immensely supported by live music from Michael Owcharuk and Beth Fleenor. Some of the music is composed by Owcharuk. Scene changes and emotional energy are enhanced with music. The complicated locations are suggested with great design from Christopher Mumaw. The era is emphasized by costuming from Pete Rush. Kent Cubbage provides solid lighting support with sound design from Matt Starritt.

The script, as adapted by Jeff Schwager, is engaging and engrossing, leading us through the events of the cousins’ lives with a thorough but not over-dwelling rhythm. The third act currently has an odd change in tone that doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the script, but it may only take a few tweaks to make a correction. Myra Platt’s direction is economic and really, well, magical. She helps the actors set just the right tones for the myriad scenes and the growth of the characters over time.

Mostly, I can just encourage you to go for it, and see this terrific production. It’s an event. It’s a whole evening or afternoon (if you go to the 2:00pm matinee). It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s historic, it’s instructive, it’s a hell of a story.