Theater review

Theater review: 'Spirits to Enforce' is quirky but a must-see

CorrespondentApril 25, 2014 

  • Details

    What: “Spirits to Enforce” by Mickle Maher

    Where: Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham

    When: 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 1-3 and 7-10; 2 p.m. May 4

    Tickets: $10-$18 (students $5)

    Info: 919-682-3343 or manbitesdogtheater.org

The overworked phrase, “defies description,” definitely applies to Mickle Maher’s “Spirits to Enforce.” His 2003 play, in a spellbinding staging from Manbites Dog Theater, has so many layers that calling it a spoof of superhero comics or a riff on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” doesn’t begin to catalog its wonders.

The setting is a bank of tables and telephones where a dozen fundraisers are making cold calls aboard a submarine docked at an island. These 12 are the spirits who remained there after Shakespeare’s Prospero left.

Ariel has led them in a four-century fight for dominance against Caliban, their various powers now morphed into superhero designations such as Memory Lass and Untangler. With Caliban currently locked up, the 12 have decided to put on a production of the play about their origins. But, because superheroes aren’t paid, they must raise money to do so.

This description may seem ludicrous, but the writing is intelligent and daring. In this 90-minute one-act, characters speak in overlapping and repeating phrases as they make their calls. It takes a while to adjust to the technique, which cleverly allows plot and character to clearly emerge from the sea of sound. At times, these waves subside and short monologues and dialogues surface, combining new lines with those of the Bard. Eventually, the audience pieces together a humorous and poetic picture of the struggle between good and evil, the price of fame and the value of theater.

Director Jeff Storer has molded his actors into a humming engine, their precise, rhythmical outbursts never missing a beat. Thaddaeus Edwards’ Ariel is a varied portrait of weary hope and nostalgic memories. Marcia Edmundson’s Page (reader of all writing) and Prospero have marvelous mystery and majesty. Jon Haas’ Tune (singer of all songs) and Ferdinand create a winning bond with Jessica Flemming’s feisty Memory Lass and Miranda. Carl Martin’s threatening presence as Caliban, Derrick Ivey’s manic Antonio and Rajeev Rajendran’s candid Intoxicator add to the astonishing array of unusual characters.

Designers Jon Haas (amusing ocean videos), Derrick Ivey (submarine backdrop) and Shelby Hahn (underwater sounds) help create the quirky environment. But this review can’t really indicate the unique attraction of this most intriguing and stimulating production.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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