The Los Alamos Little Theatre opened its 71st season this weekend with Tower of Magic by local playwright Tess Light.
First produced in 2012, Tower of Magic is a winner of the Theatre Conspiracy’s New Play Contest, as well as second place in the seventh annual Southwest Playwriting Competition.
The play is built around a common scenario – a family meeting their loved one’s fiancé for the first time. Everything’s going fine for Felix (Scott Reynolds) until his fiancée Sue (Katrina Koehler) goes to visit her family for three days and hasn’t returned three weeks later. Felix sets out to bring Sue home and get a glimpse of her family, whom he has yet to meet four years into their relationship.
Meanwhile Sue, whose family knows her as Solstitia, has yet to tell her family she has a boyfriend, let alone a fiancé. Why? She’s afraid her highly eccentric family won’t accept the slightly stuffy civil engineer she’s marrying. And just as Solstitia predicts, Felix and her family bring out the worst in each other.
You see, Solstitia’s family is a trifle unusual. Her father Zanzibar McFate (Larry Gibbons) is an obsessed ornithologist who spends his days on the lookout for the rare Kirtland’s warbler. Her mother, Capella (Claire Singleton), is a mezzo–soprano who dresses in ball gowns and sings instead of speaking. (If I had a voice like Singleton’s, I might do the same.) Her grandmother, Hestia (Marilyn Johns) is a fantastically gifted chef with a past as a poisoner who uses dubious “secret ingredients.” Brothers Pax (Lucio Juarez) and identical twins Tertius and Quartus (Tyrrell Cummings) are just as idiosyncratic. Pax is a mute savant who suddenly becomes articulate after sneezing. Tiddlywinks playing linquist Tertius and scruffy Quartus define quirky.
In their home, deep in the woods, they concentrate on pursuing their passions, loving each other and ignoring the outside world.
The arrival of Felix brings Sue/Solstitia’s split personality crashing down around her ears. She loves Felix and her life in the city but she loves her family and their magical world, too. As Sue, she’s cut magic and her gifts as an artist out of her life. Now they’re coming back. Can she bear to leave the family enclave and return to her life as an over-achieving professor of engineering?
It turns out Felix and Solstitia love each other, but don’t really know each other. With some help from her eccentric family, they grope toward a joyful discovery of each other and to see their love as a bridge between different worlds.
Koehler and Reynolds have the difficult task of playing the straight men to Solstitia’s wild and whacky family. Reynolds does a fine job of making Felix, who is not all that likable at first, vulnerable and tender. Koehler captures Solstitia’s magic as well as her confusion.
The alternate reality of the McFate family home gives the cast free rein to explore just how far they can go in bringing the outlandish characters to life. I enjoyed all the performances so much it’s hard to single anyone out. Everyone is having tons of fun.
Johns captured my heart as the foul-mouthed Hestia, dragging the hapless Felix out to bag swamp rats. Singleton manages to be both wise and ditzy while singing most of her dialogue. Wow! Cummings, as the twins, manages to make both of them unique. Juarez makes the mostly mute Pax fey and charming as well as weird. Gibbons’ shining moment comes when Zanzibar chases Felix around the yard, while doing an imitation of an angry prairie chicken.
The set, designed by Richard Wasilewski, is simply marvelous. It includes full-sized trees, plus a tree house, a rocker that’s part turkey, a cottage that’s both tacky and intriguing and piles of miscellaneous treasures. A huge team of folks created the sets and they did a bang-up job.
First-time director Tess Light brings her own words to life with gusto. It’s hard not to see Light in Solstitia, once you know she’s both a physicist and a talented playwright. She throws a little geek humor into the proceedings for her colleges in the audience.
Tower of Magic is a hilarious romp that’s also a little bit wise. It’s also bewitchingly whimsical. I’m not going to give away the surprises. Go see Tower of Magic and as I was, be enchanted.
Tower of Magic continues at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 20 with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., Sept. 14 at Los Alamos Little Theatre, 1670 Nectar St. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. Tickets may be purchased at the door, at CB FOX or online at lalt.org.