Kelsey holds a BFA in Theatre Studies and a BS in Cinema/Media Studies from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. She's a freelance dramaturg, most recently working with Circle Theatre's Venus in Fur. Kelsey believes in theater's ability to change the world. A mix of wit and lit.
Pictured: Alex B. Reynolds. Photo by Sam Long.
By Kelsey McGrath
New Millennium Theatre Company’s current production, THE TRAGEDY OF HE-MANLET, is the essence of storefront theatre. Housed at Stage 773, this original production is so clearly a labor of love; its unique, do-it-yourself nature permeates throughout every aspect of the show.
To be honest, I’m only familiar with He-Man by way of binge watching “I Love the 80’s.” Nearly everything went over my head, save for the loose Hamlet story line.
It’s an ambitious and random venture, fusing a 1980s cartoon show and Shakespeare. The parallel storytelling devices were clear, but the production left me thinking more about what a niche show owes its viewers that have no experience with its subject matter. Is it up to the viewers to equip themselves with research beforehand? Or is the responsibility of the company to provide background and exposition?
Although much of the nuance escaped me, the fundamental love for the work kept my attention. I always wanted to see what was coming next whether that was in costume, character choice, or silly stage quip. The company manages to be self-aware enough about their production value to have fun with it despite the lack of a Goodman budget. I couldn’t stop watching the Ghost/Man-E-Faces/Stinkor, Christopher Woolsey. While wearing the hats and masks of three different roles, he managed to make each one unique while keeping himself in tact throughout the show. Jessica Rae Olson’s costumes explode with creativity and resourcefulness; they help root the characters in the world of the play and were so fun to visually take in. It’s fascinating to see the “threads” of the work; the ways in how the animated characters became real.
THE TRAGEDY OF HE-MANLET is a clever, scrappy little show. I recommend going if you’re familiar with the animated series. A love and appreciation for storefront theatre doesn’t always make up for having no idea what’s going on. And then the ThunderCats make an appearance…
THE TRAGEDY OF HE-MANLET runs through September 10th. For more information visit nmtchicago.org.