A well-dressed man, a self-described demon (the exceedingly well-spoken Paul Turbiak), sits in a chair next to a small table upon which rests a plain, square box. In articulate tones, he gives an erudite exposition of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as an introduction to the action of playwright/director Aaron Hendry’s staging of Not Man Apart’s production of The SuperHero and his Charming Wife. Although he doesn’t name it, he throws in Schrödinger’s cat as well when describing the infinite possibilities as to what might be in the mysterious box, all of which are potentially true and all of which exist simultaneously up to the point when the box is opened. Pretty heady stuff. Go to Wikipedia and see if you understand the mathematics. I did and it made my eyes blur.
What follows this interesting curtain speech is a modern, absurdist take on the classical hero story that is rife with mystery, conflict and conundrums. Turning the modern DC/Marvel-sort-of-superhero into a lunch-pail justice worker who has to take the subway to work because his wife has the car, is a humorous slant on a well-worn trope. But the hero journey is indelibly classic and owes much to Greeks and Germans. Drawing inspiration from the Hellenistic pantheon of gods, Wagner’s Der Ring with its sturm und drang, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and its derivative, Star Wars, The SuperHero and his Charming Wife travels a well-worn road with bold invention.
Hero (Jones Welsh, heroic in size, musculature and speech) has domestic trouble. His wife, Julie, of which there are three incarnations, is unhappy. The first (Joanna Bateman) is cranky and short with Hero (as everyone calls him). She leaves the stage with indefinable consternation, only to return as Julie the Changed (Laura Covelli), who, although similar in stature and hair color, is definitely an entirely different person. No dummy, Hero notices the change, but gives in to the new Julie’s insistence of who she is. And so it goes throughout the play as Hero battles villains —The Master Criminal (Alina Bolshakova); The Dark Creeper (Anne-Marie Talmadge); and The Evil Dirty Witch (Jessica Carlsen). As he goes about the heroic business of righting wrongs and delivering justice to miscreants, he comes upon yet another Julie, the angsty, bi-polar, Julie the Hunted (Courtney Munch). Boy, is she a handful!
The action is punctuated with Not Man Apart’s muscular dance and intricate combat choreography (Michelle Broussard in collaboration with Aaron Hendry and Jones Welsh), which is highly entertaining in its elemental purity. The single most amazing scene in the show takes place in the back alley of a restaurant where Julie the Hunted works as a chef and The Waiter (Zachary Reeve Davidson) yearns to be a hero himself. When The Waitress (Sydney Mason) takes some garbage out to be dumped along with other black bags of refuse, the bags start to move and eventually an enormous, black visqueen monster consumes her in an extended bit choreography that eventually covers the entire playing area, writhing and seething to a narrative accompaniment that is not always clear or easy to understand. But the effect is something one will always remember. With rattling, sometimes popping, explosive sounds emanating from the inchoate structure with its infinite configurations and accompanied by loud, intense music, the effect is viscerally affecting.
Although The SuperHero and his Charming Wife has a lot going for it, especially the committed physicality of it all, the narrative is occasionally difficult to follow. And, as the intermission looms, the action lags and pace slows. This dissolves for the most part in the second act with the visqueen monster, but there are still problems with pace and audibility as the performance moves towards climax and dénoument.
Aaron Hendry swings for the fences with this production. Quoth he, “I chose to make The SuperHero and his Charming Wife an adventure comic book in order to make high stakes out of basic human struggles. It is a play about fear of the unknown and how that fear can control our lives, growing into all sorts of terrors and anxieties that may not be real, It seeks to be wildly ridiculous and at the same time deeply human.”
The SuperHero and his Charming Wife makes for a very interesting evening of avant-garde theatre and dance performed by a committed cast of highly physical actors. If you want to see something new and original, this is your show! It runs through May 15 at Highways Performance Space at The 18th Street Arts Center, 1651 18th Street in Santa Monica.