Iowa Theatre Blog Spot
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A second review of Hero Stories

(The first review is here.)

Rage - Over the river and through the sub-zero to Hero Stories we go. This collaboration between Rage Theatrics and the Old Creamery Theatre opened on January 19th in the Amana Colonies.

It’s a bit of a drive down meandering two-lane highways to get there, but the journey is worth it. First off, watching Hero Stories in the pleasant atmosphere of the Old Creamery’s proscenium theatre makes it all the better. And secondly, opportunities are few to enjoy over two hours of live theatre, complete with swordfights, for only twelve dollars.

Rage has become well-known in the area for producing shows in which stage combat plays an integral role, but Hero Stories is a bit of a departure for the group as it includes original works centered on the theme of “heroes.” Some of these works were more polished and tightly written than others, but it’s always invigorating to see new plays on their feet, and every piece presented had enough appeal to contribute to an overall enjoyable evening.

True to “Rage” form, the swords start clanking even before the curtain opens on a scene adapted from The Three Musketeers, and the high energy combat continues through a vampire hunting adventure and a slick, Matrix-inspired, post-apocalyptic duel.

The sets are simple but effective with lighting design going a long way to set the proper mood in many of the pieces.

The large ensemble cast serves the stories well. A few performers would do well to slow down and fill the space a bit more with their voices and presence, but many more performers take this opportunity to shine—too many, in fact, to mention each one by name. Some of the particular stand-out performances include Adam Turner as a comically self-aggrandizing Robin Hood and Brad Cary as a lovable yet oafish Little John. The cast of Pop Tart Hero was also particularly strong. Emily Dokken is lovely as the slightly awkward love interest, and Thomas Henrich’s performance as Stan is both impressively athletic and emotionally honest. Nika Neihaus and Nate Kula are visually perfect videogame characters in their hilarious “virtual fighting” scene.

Throughout all six pieces, the actors made the fight sequences appear natural and seamless (but not painless) while simultaneously working up a sweat.

As a whole, the evening achieved a nice rhythm and balance with three fast-paced shows in each act. Particularly wise was the choice to end Hero Stories with Pop Tart Hero, a play about an apathetic kid who longs for something tragic to happen so he can prove himself heroic. After watching five pieces full of serious swordplay and traditional stage fighting, Pop Tart Hero’s original take on stage combat is the perfect way to end the evening. It splits the side to see two fast food employees come to arms with spatulas, and to view a video game come to life. A man in front of me had to take his glasses off because he was laughing so hard his eyes were watering. Pop Tart Hero left me wishing there was a rewind button so I could see it again.

Not only does this piece amuse, it successfully leaves the audience with questions. What is a hero? What does it mean to act heroically? What will we sacrifice to be regarded as a hero? Is it worth it?

As the director’s note in the program reads, “We live in a society enamored with heroes.” Indeed, the hero’s narrative is one of the earliest forms of storytelling that exists. Hero Stories can’t possibly address all the dimensions of heroism that have been explored through the ages, but it does a nice job of mixing contemporary and classic notions while keeping the audience wholly engaged.

Even if it is twenty degrees below zero, take the trip out to see this collection of shows before it closes on January 27th. It’s not often that you can actually see blood, sweat and tears in a performance, but this one promises all three—plus a good belly laugh or two.

--Vicki Krajewski

Vicki Krajewski has acted and directed with theatre companies in Chicago and Iowa including the Prairie Center for the Arts, Sandcastle Productions, Dreamwell, Catalyst, Iowa City Community Theatre and City Circle. Several of her short plays and monologues have been produced in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Along with her performance pieces, she does occasional newspaper reporting, freelance feature writing, technical writing, personal essays and even some poetry.

(The top picture shows Erik Wissenberg, Tyler Hanft, Brad Cary, Lane Hanon and Emily Dokken in Captain Blood. The bottom picture shows Nate Mims, Nate Kula, Derek Schmelling, Brad Cary, and Aaron Haworth in The Siege of La Rochelle. Both photos taken by Shuva Rahim.)