Posted: Monday, April 4, 2016 4:13 pm | Updated: 5:27 pm, Tue Apr 5, 2016.
By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Maybe it’s something that has crossed your mind, at a time when it seemed as if everything in your life was going horribly, irretrievably wrong — to turn your back on the mess of reality and go live in what is officially known as “the most magical place on Earth.”
That’s the decision a suddenly single lawyer named Claire has made, and she is determined to follow through with this plan, even if it means threatening the corporate entity overseeing this magical place with a very real lawsuit over fraudulent land purchases.
When her brother, an out-of-work, under-producing playwright named Cory, learns his sister and niece are planning to take up permanent residence in a theme park castle, he decides she’s gone insane and heads for Florida to save them. Although Cory really hasn’t a clue as to how he’s going to go about this saving business.
The premise of “Magic Kingdom,” the Cory Conley play that the Midwestern Theater Troupe is presenting at the Nightingale Theater, may have a situation-comedy air to it — it comes complete with a preternaturally wise youngster serving as the voice of reason.
However, little is predictable or conventional in this show, which originally debuted in 2014 as part of the New York City Fringe Festival. It is more a meta-fictional meditation on the whole idea of dreams and wants and needs, and how we increasingly rely on and expect others — be they individuals, objects or corporate entities — to provide all that we think we need to be what we think is “happy.”
Cory (Robert Young) is a playwright who hasn’t written a decent line of dialogue in three years. His love life is in shambles, and he’s between jobs, so it’s easy for him to light out for the Magic Kingdom after Claire (Sara Hood Cruncleton) leaves him a detailed voice-mail message instructing him to shut down Claire’s house and not to come to Florida.
It seems that, while on vacation at this Disney resort, Claire’s husband Jack (Jeremy Sheldon) decamps, after telling her, “Have you ever wanted to be dead, but you can’t die? That’s what living with you is like.”
So Claire is prolonging the vacation until she can meet with Mickey (John Cruncleton, who also directed the production), who is apparently the head honcho of the Magic Kingdom. But Mickey is…well, the large headpiece with saucer-shaped ears he wears, and the piping falsetto voice that makes his every utterance sound as if it should be introduced or punctuated by “Gee willickers!” makes one wonder exactly what sort of creature, or creation, this Mickey is.
But then, the whole production plays with such distinctions. The opening scene is finely choreographed dance of words and images, as Cory recounts Claire’s voice-mail message, the dialogue bobbing and weaving while a series of helpfully illustrative images flash on the screen — it both sets up the situation, yet unsettles in the way it ping-pongs through past and present.
Young wears his character’s fecklessness with a certain panache that crumples only with reality rears its ugly head, whether in the form of Dylan (Nick Lutke), who recounts an ill-fated liaison, or when his attempts to serve as the narrator are thwarted.
Sara Cruncleton is good as the almost perpetually peeved Claire, while Lottie Moon Cruncleton is winning as the wise-beyond-her-years Emma. Dale Sams brought an Everyman pathos to Mike the monorial operator and John Cruncleton was a marvelous Mickey — cartoonish and creepy, sinister and silly all at once.
Jeff Whitlach designed and operated the show’s complex sound, lighting and visuals, and even got to the chance to step away from the board for an “apology” for the show’s first act.
“Magic Kingdom” has its surreal moments, and its cinematic structure (a lot of short, quick scenes that are effectively handled with curtains) can get a little baggy. But there is a great deal of heart in this show, that no amount of meta-fictional mind games can obscure. And the Midwestern Theater Troupe makes sure audiences are very much aware of the tender, beating human heart at the center of “Magic Kingdom.”
“Magic Kingdom” continues with performances 8 p.m. Friday Saturday and April 15-16 at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Because of language, subject matter and brief nudity, “Magic Kingdom” is recommended for mature audiences.