Review: Psychonaut Librarians (The New Colony)

| January 29, 2017

Christine Mayland Perkins and Matt Farabee star in Psychonaut Librarians, New Colony           
      
  

Psychonaut Librarians 

Written by Sean Kelly
The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map)
thru Feb 12  |  tix: $20  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

Original, entertaining fantasy

  

Carlos Olmedo, Christine Mayland Perkins, David Cerda and Matt Farabee star in Psychonaut Librarians

    
The New Colony presents
    
Psychonaut Librarians

Review by Lauren Whalen

Since 2008, The New Colony has pledged to develop “NEW ART and NEW ARTISTS in order to educate and build NEW AUDIENCES.” Their work can be hit or miss – the hits include last year’s smash Byhalia, Mississippi and the earlier Five Lesbians Eating Quiche and reWILDing Genius. Happily, their 2017 season opener Psychonaut Librarians is decidedly more hit than miss. Though Sean Kelly’s script leaves much to be desired, director Krissy Vanderwarker has an excellent sense of stage magic, assembling a crack production team and a lovely group of actors to present a story of drug-tripping librarians, time travel and a mother and daughter who despite their Christine Mayland Perkins, Michael Peters and Carlos Olmedo star in Psychonaut Librarians, New Colonydifferences are determined to connect.

When Jane (Christine Mayland Perkins) is a little girl, her mother hides her in a bag. Divorced librarian Hester (David Cerda) smuggles her daughter into the library for the night. At first Jane is bored, but then a new friend materializes in the form of the aptly-named Dewey (Matt Farabee). But when the evil Sandman (Jack McCabe) interferes, Jane is scared away from libraries and her mother until adulthood, when a mysterious note arrives. On the eve of her retirement, Hester and her colleagues (Morgan McNaught and Michael Peters), along with an eager janitor (Carlos Olmedo), embark on one last time-travel trip – with a reluctant Jane at their side.

Despite this fantastical plot, the weakest aspect of Psychonaut Librarians is its script. The time traveling/fantasy world component isn’t fully explained. For example, how did Hester come to know of this world, and why is Sandman so set on getting the librarians out of said world? Additionally, there’s a need for more exploration of Hester and Jane’s fractured relationship and less of the attempts to explain a fantasy world that isn’t at all thought through.

Psychonaut Librarians works, however, because of its direction, production values and ensemble. Vanderwarker is a veteran of Chicago productions small and large, most recently Lookingglass’ stunning Thaddeus & Slocum, one of my favorite plays of 2016. She has a lovely sense of what works in terms of stage magic, pacing and actor coaching and movement. Yeaji Kim’s projection design and puppets by Breanne Ward and Evan Troost bring the librarians’ Anyverse to vibrant life – the tentative border between reality and dreams. Monica Thomas’ choreography, along with Sam Krey’s violence design, are the highlights of the production. Both are innovative and maximize the small Den Theatre space (though I could have done without actors climbing over audience members).

David Cerda, Christine Mayland Perkins, Jack McCabe and Matt Farabee star in Psychonaut Librarians, New ColonyChristine Mayland Perkins and Matt Farabee star in Psychonaut Librarians, New Colony David Cerda and Christine Mayland Perkins star in Psychonaut Librarians, New ColonyJack McCabe, Christine Mayland Perkins and Matt Farabee star in Psychonaut Librarians, New Colony David Cerda and Jack McCabe star in Psychonaut Librarians, The New ColonyMatt Farabee and Christine Mayland Perkins star in Psychonaut Librarians, The New Colony

This ensemble is stronger and more qualified than a few other New Colony productions I’ve seen, with the actors boasting impressive resumes. Perkins, a House Theatre company member, is a worthy and plucky heroine as well as a lost daughter and human being. Cerda is both funny and empathetic as Hester, and Peters is absolutely perfect as Hester’s buttoned-up, bowtied coworker. Only McCabe seems a bit out of place, though it doesn’t help that the Sandman character is woefully underwritten as a token bad guy. Even so, McCabe’s delivery is stiff and unconvincing.

There’s a lot to like about Psychonaut Librarians. Though inconsistent at times, the story of a mother, a daughter and drug trip-induced time travel is both entertaining and compelling. Thanks to the artistic vision of Vanderwarker and her production team, this New Colony world-premiere production is a strong notch in their season.

  
Rating: ★★★
  

Psychonaut Librarians continues through February 12th at Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee   (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $20 (students & seniors: 25% off), and are available by phone (773-697-3830) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at TheNewColony.org(Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

David Cerda, Morgan McNaught, Carlos Olmedo, Christine Mayland Perkins and Michael Peters in

Photos by Evan Hanover


  

artists

cast

David Cerda (Hester), Matt Farabee (Dewey), Jack McCabe (Sandman), Morgan McNaught (Rosemary), Carlos Olmedo (PJ), Christine Mayland Perkins (Jane), Michael Peters (Emmerick)

musicians

Agnieszka Likos (violin 1), Jess McIntosh (violin 2), Donna Miller (cello), Marti Kallenberger (French horn)

behind the scenes

Krissy Vanderwarker (director), Yeaji Kim (scenic design, projections design), Catherine Tantillo (costume design), Alexander Ridgers (lighting design), Matthew Muñiz (sound design, original score), Breanne Ward and Evan Troost (puppet design), Sam Krey (violence design), Monica Thomas (choreography), Carl Ulaszek (props design, production manager, technical director), Michael Cotey (assistant director), Monica M. Brown (stage manager), Kira Gaudynski (assistant stage manager), Evan Hanover (photographs)

Morgan McNaught, Carlos Olmedo and Michael Peters star in Psychonaut Librarians, New ColonyDavid Cerda and Jack McCabe star in Psychonaut Librarians, The New ColonyCarlos Olmedo, Christine Mayland Perkins, David Cerda and Matt Farabee star in Psychonaut LibrariansMorgan McNaught and Michael Peters star in Psychonaut Librarians, The New Colony

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Den Theatre, Lauren Whalen, New Colony, New Work, World Premier

Comments (1)

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  1. natalie bowers says:

    I saw this play this Friday and absolutely LOVED it. I wrote my own review for it here that I was going to share on my facebook page 😉 :

    Psychonaut Librarians, an uplifting and supremely creative World Premiere theater production currently at The Den Theatre, is an absolute visual and auditory delight, and a must-see if you’re in Chicago this next week – the show runs until February 12th. http://thenewcolony.org/view/psychonaut_librarians#sthash.cIgClYLf.dpbs

    The New Colony Company, a hotbed of theatrical innovation, prides itself on producing original and new works (see their company description here http://thenewcolony.org/company) and that’s exactly what Psychonaut Librarians delivers with all of the trimmings. Fresh, new, exciting and with the energy that pulls off an ambitious script, (written by Sean Kelly, directed by Krissy Vanderwarker) the play truly speaks to the company’s virtues.

    The stage design and the sound production both offer powerful additions to the experience and I’ve rarely seen such successful teamwork displayed on stage; it is a trilogy of amicable collaboration that embodies what effective, inspiring theater should be.

    With some influence from the likes of classical author Lewis Carroll, and more contemporary writing of Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) and Phillip Pullman (Northern Lights), Psychonaut Librarians is a multi-dimensional coming of age adventure involving a cast of open-minded motley characters battling for true unfettered love and free-spiritedness. Their collective journey takes them into another dimension, called the ‘Anyverse’, where they embrace the unknown to free themselves from much of what turns out to be their own fears. The performance delivers a balance between ridiculous hilarity and wise observation on the human condition and what happens as we age.

    Protagonist Jane (played by Christine Mayland Perkins) confronts the antagonist referred to as the ‘Sandman’ (played by Jack McCabe) who lurks throughout the play. He wields telepathic powers and professes to have an appetite for souls ‘ripened’ by their own fears. Jane is discovered by a dream-like character known as Dewey (played by Matt Farabee) who becomes her playful love interest. Her mother Hester, the original Psychonaut Librarian (played by David Cerda) sort of stole the show for me. Both character and actor were delightfully funny and insightful. Hester’s colleagues (played by Morgan McNaught and Michael Peters) added another dimension of folly to the script along with the very entertaining Library Security Guard (played by Carlos Olmedo) whose comedic relief was perfect.