The mansion comes to life as if animated by, well, magic. Doors open, walls shift, furniture enters and exits. A girl smirks as she snatches a glowing green bag off a table covered in books and vials of varying sizes. A door is opened and a mysterious woman sits there serenely before being locked up once again. A creature takes to the stage with a flair that hints at a deeper consciousness hidden behind the shaggy exterior.
This opening scene from "The Sound," starting Friday at Production Workshop, hints at all of the whimsical twists and turns the play will stage before the lights go out — perhaps with a flick and swish of a wand?
Written and directed by Sam Alper '11.5, this "new play about wizards" invites the audience to relive all their childhood fantasy-story-inspired imaginings. Whether it be Hogwarts, Narnia or the gaming world of Dungeons and Dragons, magical lands have ensnared the imaginations of people the world over.
Alper originally wrote the play in the winter of 2009 for the actors of The Collectin, a New York-based acting group. The first production was directed by Dan Rogers '08 at the Vampire Cowboys Theater Group out of Brooklyn on a minimal budget while Alper was studying abroad in Buenos Aires.
Alper's script takes the wizards out of the castle and into the everyday as protagonists Chris, Lyle and Lyle 2 (Ben Freeman '13, Paul Cooper '11 and Gabe Gonzalez '12, respectively) discover they are real-life magical folk.
Alper said he was "a huge fantasy nerd" growing up, reading the "Wheel of Time" and Harry Potter series, as well as playing video games such as Dungeons and Dragons. The play was an exploration of what it is that made these worlds so alluring.
These worlds present a very ordered, linear life in which the hero discovers a magic universe, receives a mission and gets points along the way until the goal is accomplished, Alper said. In contrast, Alper said, he wanted to create a fantasy universe complete with the messiness of real life, essentially making "fantasy a fantasy."
The result is an incredibly entertaining sojourn into a magical world fully integrated into everyday society. Chris is a preppy, a cappella-singing film student at Yale. Lyle is the "third most successful drug dealer" at the University of Southern California. Lyle 2 is a shy, unerringly polite boy, Lyle's younger brother whose oft-overshadowed voice holds a great deal of wisdom.
These characters leave the "real world" and are thrust into a magical mansion belonging to their Uncle Claude (Ted Cava '11) when both of their sets of parents die in an eerie coincidence. Yes, this is also how "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" starts. Yes, the mansion they are sent to has a Great Hall. Yes, the cousins will enter into battle wielding wands and magical swords.
The joy the boys experience upon discovering they are wizards is quickly overshadowed by the scheming of their eternally young uncle, who sends them on a hunt for the witch — conveniently, an ex of Claude's — who may have caused their parents' deaths.
As they prepare for battle, the cousins also encounter various magical characters in the mansion. Laurel (Lorraine Nicholson '12.5, a Herald opinions columnist), their adopted cousin, is a stoner who prefers certain magical herbs to traditional methods. Her sarcastic humor and bossy personality at once clash and meld with Lyle's hot temper, causing Claude to deadpan, "I don't care if it happens in ‘Clueless,' I don't like it," commenting on Laurel and Lyle's semi-incestuous romantic relationship.
The actors all put in strong performances, balancing the comedic moments of the play — including a brief musical interlude featuring the beats of Weezy — with its more reflective timbre.
The nods to popular culture inject an extra dose of humor and wit into this fresh take on fantasy. The script's playfulness is reflected in the other elements of the production as well. "All of the design aspects were more integral because of the setting," said Zach Segel '13, the play's sound designer. To fully explore the magic, the production crew had to find a certain joy in the sounds, lighting and other elements, he added.
The intricate set — boasting a malleable architecture which allowed for interesting entry and exit points, as well as fantastical scene transitions — was designed by Megan Estes '12. Faced with the question of how she was going to create a world that fit everyone's fantasy, Estes said she knew she wanted to include the simple and obvious magic used in the script.
Estes set out to create her ideal space, only to realize she would not have enough funding to make it a reality. Estes decided to petition the Late Night Fund to acquire additional finances, and her budget grew from $500 to $1,200 as a result, she said. The result is a beautiful, shifting set that is just as magical as the characters that call it home.
Segel composed the transition music in between scenes and the sound effects. "Part of the challenge in designing it, is that most plays aren't set purely in the fantasy world," he said. With the majority of sounds being things like spell-casting, Segel said, it was fun from a design aspect because he had a blank slate to work with. He and Alper decided to go with a video game perspective, creating "blippy" sound effects that corresponded with much of Alper's inspiration, he said.
"The Sound" manages to capture the youthful sense of wonder and curiosity that first attracted Alper to fantasy games and novels. Its playfulness, humor and originality bring to life a world of magic worth visiting again.
"The Sound" opens Dec. 3 in T. F. Green Hall and runs through Dec. 6. Shows are at 8 p.m., with an additional performance at 11 p.m. on Friday.