Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leaping Lizards! War With the Newts Presents Quite a Gripping Allegory

Theater Review

War With the Newts: Mr. Povondra's Dream
Next Theatre, presented at Mullady Theatre, Loyola University
Run Ended

War With the Newts is based on a 1936 story of the same name by Czech writer Karel Capek. Evanston's Next Theatre Company--which continues to produce stellar work yet was recently plagued by a controversy surrounding Artistic Director Jason Southerland, resulting in his resignation--borrowed Loyola University's Mullady Theatre for their season-closing, World Premiere play version directed by former Next Artistic Director Jason Loewith, who shared writing credit with Artistic Associate Justin D.M. Palmer.

I've never read the story, but from what I've read about it, the play seems to hew pretty closely in telling the prophetic tale of the discovery of an intelligent race of oversized newts, or giant salamanders, who have the ability to do underwater construction as well as communicate with their human counterparts.

At first, man, of various nations, utilizes the newts to further his own agenda, but in an allegory about greed, imperialism and probably much else, at the end of the play, mankind is at "war with the newts" and at great peril of being overrun.

While the play was somewhat dense to take in uninitiated--like artful movies, books, music, etc., I find many plays hard to appreciate fully the first time through but don't have the luxury of a rewind button--the impressive staging, fine acting and understandable theme made it more than sufficiently enjoyable. Although I may not have caught the depth of every line of dialogue, I knew I was watching something of substance and merit that never dragged. Next stalwarts Joseph Wycoff and Steve Pickering gave particularly strong performances among an excellent cast.

I hope Next doesn't suffer much from the issues with Southerland--who has been accused of plagiarism in adding content to their stellar Return To Haifa this past winter--as it has become one of my favorite theaters in the area, with their work often superior to what I'm seeing at Goodman and Steppenwolf. Although War of the Newts has now closed, it certainly served as yet another example and I look forward to what next season brings.

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