PerformInk is Chicago's entertainment industry trade publication.
Pictured: David Cerda and Christine Mayland Perkins. Photo by Evan Hanover.
Review: PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS at The New Colony
By Jonald Reyes
Narnia. Oz. And now, the Anyverse. In The New Colony’s premiere production, “Psychonaut Librarians,” we are brought to another world that is beyond our dreams. And in reality, we are brought to a show that is beyond our imagination. In a time where “common sense has been rigged,” this story builds another realm where our main character, Jane, meets an entity that starts as an idea and morphs into her best friend, Dewey. Much like other fantasy stories, all the good that Dewey & Jane represent is opposed by a villain, which in this world is the Sandman. The Sandman controls Dewey in this dream world called Anyverse and becomes a final obstacle for Jane to overcome with her Psychonaut Librarians.
Sean Kelly’s 90-minute play with no intermission is told in two-parts. The first part introduces Jane and her “crazy” mother, Hester, played by David Cerda. Cerda playing Hester in drag is an element that works wonderfully in this storyline of Jane’s father leaving them because Hester is too eccentric. We learn that the strangeness is really out of the box thinking and she’s already a frequent visitor of the Anyverse. Hester wants Jane to delve deeper into the books at the library and broaden her imagination to escape the evils of the real world. Then in a dreamlike sequence, Jane falls into her first Anyverse visit finding Dewey.
From the beginning of the show, Jane, played by Christine Perkins, delivers a mix of outside narration and character dialogue. This third-person narration done by all characters sets a story like tone but at times can be overwhelming in spoon feeding us actions that might be better acted out than told. The consistency of this tool also gets lost somewhere in the second half but brought back as if it became a second thought later in the play. Fortunately, the actors have good pacing of going back & forth from third-person narration to dialogue that it’s digestible after becoming attuned to it.
The second part of the play brings us to the library where we are introduced to librarians Emmerick (Michael Peters) & Rosemary (Morgan McNaught), and library security guard PJ (Carlos Olmedo). Peters holds the straight-laced Emmerick with a solid understanding that the delivery of this character becomes the other hero you truly root for, much like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. His commitment to a professional demeanor makes for humorous moments, and with the mix of McNaught & Olmedo, really shows a plausible assembly of this nerd-like comic book super group. These librarians, along with Hester, want to dig deeper into the Anyverse and later bring Jane & PJ into a fairyland adventure, which ultimately becomes a battle against the Sandman.
In Performink’s “Inside” series, Director Krissy Vanderwarker shares thoughts of how she takes on this play. There is a lot to take in. Even with other fantasy worlds like Narnia, Oz, Neverland, and Middle Earth, there are more books, films, and hours invested to defining the elements of this other dimension. In Psychonaut Librarians, we’re only given 90-minutes to learn about Anyverse. After watching this play, so many questions loomed, like “What else is in this Anyverse? How did they figure out to create an elixir to get there? How did the Sandman become the bad guy there?” To create a whole new world is a lot to take on, and although we may need to only see what’s necessary in telling this specific story, it still felt like too much. However, Vanderwarker with her team of lighting and projection designers does an amazing job in visually bringing the audience to another dimension. By the use of silhouettes and images, the third-person narration worked better and really structured a fantastical transportation. The composition and sound design added further weight to the visuals and the creative combination gave way to further our imagination within a world of imagination.
Christine Perkins has a charismatic presence on stage and her grounded character work really hones in on the good that you want to win. The relationship between Jane and Dewey is a bit underdeveloped, as well as Jack McCabe’s delivery of the Sandman. In really striking fear in the protagonist & audience, McCabe needs to be bigger than what he’s already established. The last quarter of the play in Anyverse really has the audience on a ride of various obstacles that this nerd-like supergroup face. It has a lot of energy and makes for fun moments where the audience is rooting in their seats.
In a time where audiences may be looking to truly escape what’s happening in America, The New Colony brings us back to our dreams. This other world where we find comfort and battle to keep it uplifting through playful imagination. “Psychonaut Librarians” is our portal to Anyverse and the story of good versus evil proves to still have love overcome all. It’s the believing that makes it work, and as noted in the play, “When you don’t believe, you don’t experience.”