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Rough Magic

The subject is magic.— Linda Summers
Rough Magic
Diana Cherkas, Vasanth Santosham, Grady Weatherford, Dustin Loomis and Cesar A. Guadamuz (Photo: Marigan O'Malley-Posada)
Rorschach Theatre's offering for the Washington Shakespeare Festival is playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's comic book-like take off on the Bard's last work, The Tempest. Set in both present day New York City and Prospero's timeless island, Rough Magic is a funny tale about a reluctant witch who is enlisted to defend humanity and fight the greatest sorcerer of history.

Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa's writing is pithy and ironic, as he weaves a tale of love, magic and horror — with a bit of drag and sarcasm thrown in. Following a formula he began with The Muckle Man and continued with The Velvet Sky, Rough Magic is the most light-hearted of the three. The formula: endangered child/teen, maternal heroine pushed into battle, authoritarian male representing an aspect of evil -- shake well and toss out a plot that is part horror story, part graphic comic novel.

In Rough Magic he has several endangered youth -- the children of Prospero, who include Caliban, Miranda, Ariel and Sasia, as well as Chet the seventeen year old lifeguard who becomes known as "the child warrior." His uncertain, heroine is Melanie Porter, a full-time dramaturg and part-time witch who can bring literary characters to life. And the evil man is Shakespeare's Prospero who wishes to capture the escaped Caliban and wreck havoc on an unsuspecting world populace. Along the way Aguirre-Sacasa adds in a trio of gay Furies, the roman warrior Caius Marcius and The Little Shop of Horrors' Mr. Mushnik.

The basic story follows as Caliban, Melanie and Chet, with the assistance of Tisiphone the Fury, attempt to outwit Prospero and his two malevolent sprites, Ariel and Sasia. As the Big Apple burns and Prospero escapes the confines of his island prison through an ingenious twist, time begins to run out. Melanie is forced to face some inner truths about herself in order to tap into her own inner power and trust her own brand of magic. And then the final conflict rages between the two sides.

Director Jenny McConnell Frederick has pulled together a fun performance, which flies by and keeps you entertained the entire two hours. This is to her credit, since in our culture's special effects laden entertainment offerings, a small theatre on a budget is at a disadvantage in creating a battle of wills between two raging necromancers. And for his part in helping small theatrical companies, Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa has expertly built this story so that the ending is more cerebral than physical. This could be a let down for some who were hoping for a Bewitched versus Jeannie catfight, but it is quite creative on the part of the playwright.

Eric Grims' set is a versatile space, which is easily transformed into each scene. The artwork and colors suggest a comic book theme. Andrew Cissna's lighting plays out nicely for scene changes and to highlight the magic that takes place. Matthew Frederick's sound design uses sound effects and gay anthems to great affect.

The only difficult aspects of the show are the lackluster fight choreography and the stereotypical drag show and drag portrayal. While the stereotypes may bring laughs, with Washington's thriving drag culture, Ms. McConnell Frederick could have hired a drag artiste to advise on creating the show within a show and on the drag portrayals.

The large cast has several standouts. Tracy Lynn Olivera's half-hearted witch Melanie Porter realistically grapples with her own insecurities in order to become ready to do battle. Vasanth Santosham seems to delight in playing the evil Prospero, while Gwen Grastorf is humorous as the self-important grad student who's writing her thesis on the fabled magician.

Cesar A. Guadamuz is a funny Caliban, especially when he begins to become a reptilian sea creature. And Danny Gavigan and Diana Cherkas wickedly malevolent as zombie-esque sprites, Ariel and Sasia.

Dustin Loomis gives us a nice portrayal of "child warrior" (and full-time lifeguard) Chet Baxter. He's ready to save humanity -- just as long as he can be home in time for dinner so his mom won't be worried. And Grady Weatherford is a heroic Tisiphone the immortal Fury who advises and watches over the ragtag trio of heroes. Jason Basinger Linkins and Lee Liebeskind round out the cast in various supporting roles.

Rough Magic is a fun production that nicely melds Shakespeare and fantasy to create a story that keeps us guessing right up until the end. It's a perfect way to chase away those winter doldrums and add a little spice to your weekend.

Rough Magic
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick
with Gwen Grastorf, Vasanth Santosham, Ghillian Porter, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Dustin Loomis, Danny Gavigan, Diana Cherkas, Cesar A. Guadamuz, Jason Basinger Linkins, Lee Liebeskind and Grady Weatherford
Scenic Design: Eric Grims
Costume Design: Frank Labovitz
Sound Design: Matthew Frederick
Lighting Design: Andrew Cissna
Properties Design: Debra Kim Sivigny
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
A production of Rorschach Theatre
The Sanctuary Theatre, Calvary Methodist Church, 1459 Columbia Road, Washington, DC
Telephone: tickets 1-800-494-8497; info 202-452-5538
THUR-SAT @8, $12-$20
Opening 01/27/07 closing 02/24/07
Reviewed by Rich See based on 02/03/07 performance
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