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A CurtainUp Review
The World Over

I was chasing a kingdom and found it was only a shadow.
--- Adam
Justin Kirk,  Rhea Seehorn, Kevin Isola
Justin Kirk, Rhea Seehorn, Kevin Isola (Photo: Joan Marcus )
There are more than thirty characters in Keith Bunin's new play, The World Over, played by six of the seven cast members. None of these versatile performers can be accused of chewing the scenery, but there are times when the scenery threatens to chew up not only the actors but Bunin's play.

This is a visually stunning production. In addition to dealing with their multiple roles, the actors maneuver their way through countless costume changes (the costumes as colorful as the scenery ) and also handle some of the sound effects. Whew, what energy!

Justin Kirk, plays just one role, but since it's that of the play's focal character, it's a demanding one -- at one time calling for Kirk to hang by his knees from the bi-level set's upper railing. Whew, again!

The World Over is an interesting departure from Bunin's first and very impressive outing with Playwright's Horizon. That play, The Credeaux Canvas, was a realistic modern drama with an intriguing plot twist about an art forgery. World is an epic fairy tale with a moral. Make that plural. The central fairy tale about Adam, a young man who survives being ripped from his mother's womb and who, once rescued from a hermit-like island existence by Cyrillian sailors, sets out to reclaim his rightful place in the Kingdom of Gildoray. It takes a lifelong journey all over a generally chaotic world for him to understand that he's put his faith in the wrong homeland -- that the only true kingdom worth pursuing is the kingdom of the heart.

The tale of how Adam becomes an outcast and a questing "lost prince" is like the outer layer of one of those painted Russian dolls that opens up to reveal another doll, which in turn opens up to yet another and another. The layers here unfolded contain elements of Candide, The Brothers Grimm, Candide, Twelfth Night, Turandot and probably a bunch of other famous tales about fictional kingdoms and deserted islands and violent conflicts. My companion at this performance, Jerry Weinstein, also noted a kinship to a modern and much more simply told drama, Underneath the Lintel.

Mr. Bunin is an adventurous playwright and Playwrights Horizon is to be commended for supporting him in trying to do something totally different from what worked well for him before. The stylish staging draws you into the play, as does the framing device of having a geographer-lecturer (James Urbaniak's extremely well done main persona) bring the artifacts in the Smithsonian Museum-like setting to storybook life, with a beautiful embroidered coat ending up worn by a wicked Sultan (Stephen Largay). . Under Tim Vasen's direction, however, all the special effects fail to evoke a real sense of an epic emotional or geographic journey as much as a feeling of actors moving from one part of the stage to another.

Kevin Isola
Kevin Isola (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Mr. Vasen has also failed to draw uniformly strong performances from the actors. Urbaniak, as already stated, is excellent as are Rhea Seehorn and Kevin Isola. Seehorn is particularly memorable as an old crone and Isola as a cannibalistic Gryphon. Generally though the actors have been encouraged to play their parts so broadly that despite murder, incest, cannibalism and prostitution, you might at times have a sense that you've wandered into a kids' show at the neighboring New Victory Theater.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Vasen has allowed Mr. Kirk, whose work I've admired in the past, to be too laid back to have the grandeur that seems called for. What's more, with all the effort put into costumes and make-up, Kirk's aging process is so minimal that in his final and most emotional scene he looks like his adult children's brother. All this makes one ponder what Michael Mayer, who directed The Credeaux Canvas and was originally listed as the director for The World Over, might have done to prevent the ultimate letdown with which this production leaves one.

" We're all meant to be heroes, " Adam declares early on in the play. If only the play that has him wondering and wandering the earth had more moments of genuine heroic grandeur than high jinx heroics.

The Credeaux Canvas
Underneath the Lintel

The World Over
Written by Keith Bunin
Directed by Tim Vasen
Cast: Mia Barron, Kevin Isola, Justin Kirk, Stephen Largay, Matthew Maher, Rhea Seehorn, James Urbaniak
Set Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Ilona Somogyi
Lighting Design: Michael Chybowski
Original Music and Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Fight Director: J. Allen SuddethRunning time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Playwrights Horizon at the Duke on 42nd St. (7th/8th Aves) 212/239-6200.
9/06.02-10/13/02; opening 10/01/02.
Tuse-Fri @8PM, Sat @3PM & 8PM & Sun @3PM & 7:30PM--$50.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance.

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