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Ready Steady Yeti Go
Perpetually daring Rogue Machine Theatre Company gets one of the first cracks at Yeti Go in the National New Play Network's Rolling World Premiere (which also includes productions in Philadelphia and Tampa). Guillermo Cienfuegos's production at the Electric Lodge is not to be missed.
Our prism is a group of astute but powerless 6th graders who venture out to their hideout to reenact an incident that has unsettled both their own lives and the greater community. (For once, it's not a school shooting.) Our characters are all 11 years old or thereabout. We have model citizen Gandry (Kenney Selvey), and Goon (Ryan Brophy), his bullying screw-up of an older brother. There's Katie (Rori Flynn), a helpful and slightly smug girl from the next town over and Barry (Randolph Thompson), the frequent target of Goon's bullying.
At the heart of the tale is Carly (Jasmine St. Clair), one of two black students at the school. After Carly's family experiences a racial hate crime, the community goes nuts, with the adults acting like idiots and the kids behaving, well, considerably better. Jacobi weaves a detective story of sorts and a first crush romance, all of which meshes together in 100 enchanting minutes from which viewers should emerge with plenty to chew over.
As . . .Yeti Go opens, the kids assemble in their hideout with a bunch of props, bent on recreating the events surrounding the incident and hopefully understanding it. The same six actors double adults and kids roles. The title phrase is a sort of "release" command which a performer (or performers) uses to end a scene or start a new one.
Adults portraying kids for non-satiric purposes can be a dicey proposition, especially in a play that is also drawing its humor from the spoofing of adults. But Cienfuegos's cast is on point negotiating the balance. Flynn dithers righteously as Mrs. Apples, the clueless elementary school teacher hell-bent on showcasing her own tolerant views while also turning Carly into a victim. There are guaranteed laughs every time Thompson straps on some very unfortunate orthodontic headgear to become Wikipedia Jones, the police chief's son from the next town over. Wikipedia fancies himself the sleuth who will solve the crime. "I have to make things right before schings get worsch," Wikipedia intones, "and they will get worsch."
Brophy, Selvey, and especially St. Clair have more challenging lifts. Gandry and Goon don't necessarily fit their perceived molds, and circumstances leave them at even greater risk once everything goes haywire. Selvey's Gandry is so tied up in knots over the turmoil that you genuinely feel for the kid. Brophy shows us the heart, the sensitivity, and the nobility underneath Goon's meanness.
Since Yeti Go is Carly's tale, the evening succeeds in large measure because St. Clair is so very deft. With every shrug or confused look, St. Clair presents a girl trying to find a way to belong. And when our Carly finally loses it, look out!
Yeti's playground is a ramshackle treehouse littered with mismatched chairs, boom boxes, a jar with the word "ghost" and all other bits of brick-a-brac astutely assembled by scenic designer David Mauer and prop master Dan Cole. The play is supposed to be set in the present day, but Jacobi is tapping into a nostalgia of a simpler time, one in which kids look to a Ouija board rather than Google for solutions. Whoever's childhood canvas this is supposed to represent &emdash; whether Jacobi's or something entirely fictionalized, &emdash; the director and his Yeti Go kids navigate it with the steadiest of hands.
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Ready Steady Yeti Go by David Jacobi
Directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos
Cast: Ryan Brophy, Kenney Selvey, Jasmine St. Clair, Randolph Thompson, Rori Flynn and Morgan Wilday
Set Design: David A. Mauer
Costume Design: Christine Cover Ferro
Lighting Design: Matt Richter
Sound Design: Corwin Evans
Production Manager: Amanda Bierbauer
Technical Director: David A. Mauer
Casting: Victoria Hoffman
Stage Manager: Ramon Valdez
Plays through July 29, 2019 at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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