Chester and the Unbearable
Burden, Parts I and II
The prisoner of the lord of the goblet of fire
|Six Hours Short presents|
|Chester and the Unbearable Burden, Parts I and II|
Review by Clint May
Parodying popular franchises has become a franchise unto itself ever since “Airplane!” took the world by comedic storm. In the last decades, these sorts of parodies have fallen into two camps of camp: those that take broad jabs at their source material like “Scary Movie”, and those that do a loving tribute like “Austin Powers”. Thankfully for a world burdened by easy farce, Six Hour Short Production’s new comedy Chester and the Unbearable Burden, Parts 1 and 2 takes the latter road. It’s a gentle, lighthearted send-up of the world-famous Harry Potter series with a soupçon of Lord of the Rings for good measure. Everyone has taken potshots at the fans and story of Potter, so it’s pleasing to see an affectionate entry to the newly birthed “epi-franchise.”
Chester (Michael Blomquist) is the reluctant “hero” of the tale: a boy prophesied at birth to be killed at the rising of a dark lord that killed his parents. This particular dark lord, called Molvak (Tyler Parker), is incorporeally in search of a ring that contains his life force. He’s aided (or hindered, depending on her mood) by the scheming teacher Tansy (Kalina McCreery) who dated then thwarted him. The ring is being protected by little persons Hamfast (Kelsey Kinney) and his—her?—country bumpkin helper Sean (Wade Browning). As Chester ages and attends Dirkwood Wizarding Academy, he high-fives bumbling headmaster Dilfor (Ben Harpe) and teases pseudo girlfriend Lillian (Jennifer Ducharme). What he really wants to be is a journalist, and he abraca-dabbles in writing to impress the comely editor. When the ring arrives at Dirkwood, he sees his chance to write a story that will get the editor’s attention and maybe her heart in time for the big ball. But will he be able to before the prophecy is fulfilled and he is killed by Molvak? It’s all cribbed with a wink and a nod from bits and pieces of Potter and Rings, with a resulting pastiche that is silly and grin-inducing if not entirely gut-busting.
A nerdy knowledge of the original works definitely helps you appreciate the antics of the zany cast of twelve. They all work amiably together, with an easy timing that makes the 90-minutes zing by. Ben Fort’s script wisely avoids most of the obvious jokes, aiming instead for a yarn that places itself in a world that’s slightly askew and a little more deviant (though ultimately harmless) than the one we’ve come to love. Yeah, it’s fluff, but it’s the kind of adorable, well-crafted fluff that respects its source material while creating something new.
Chester and the Unbearable Burden Parts I and II continues through March 4th at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$15, and are available by phone (773-935-6860) or online at OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at SixHoursShort.com. (Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission)
All photos by Jeff Cotner
Michael Blomquist (Chester); Wade Browning (Sean); Jen Ducharme (Lillian); Derrick Gaetke (Thebook); Ben Harpe (Dilfor); Kalina “Kitten” McCreery (Tansy); Kelsey Kinney (Hamfast); Justin Lance (Gene); Kamron Palmer (Jake, Mr. Chester, Battle Wizard); Tyler Parker (Molvak); Jacqueline Salamack (Charlie, Battle Wizard); Brittany Vogel (Miss Buttershanks, Penny, Paige); Elaina Marchenko (Kid)
behind the scenes
Ben M. Fort (playwright, director); Jason Gallagher (producer); Kristina Carr (set design); Joe Giovanetti (lighting) Amy Giacalone, Bethany Fort (stage managers); Leslie Fort, Leslie Macon (costumes); Wayne Giacalone (story editor); Sarah Nelson (science manager); Jeff Cotner (photos)