Wright Brothers ‘Did It’ satire an education for all ages By CATEY SULLIVAN For Sun-Times Media June 23, 2014 12:24PM
‘Orville and Wilbur Did It!” may well be the most completely off-the-wall production I’ve seen in the past five years. The New Colony world premiere about a touring children’s theater company is a fast-paced frolic that lands squarely in whacklandia — and that’s a terrific place to spend the show’s 100-minute running time.
The takeaway: Playwright/lyricist David Zellnik, director Andrew Hobgood and a game cast of seven have crafted a demented delight.
The story centers on a clutch of young actors with starry-eyed aspirations of both Broadway and health insurance. Perhaps you don’t happen to be working for a corporation such as They Did It Productions (TDI), a concern specializing in bringing musicals such as “Rosa Parks Did It!” and “Albert Einstein Did It!” to a captive audience of assembly-going gradeschoolers. You will relate nonetheless as the cast of “Orville and Wilbur Did It” suffers the slings and arrows of layoffs, surly audience members, dashed dreams and the arguably delusional conviction that they are spreading inspirational sunshine through their art.
Set primarily in anonymous hotels, school auditoriums and a cramped van that ferries the cast across the country like an NC-17 rated version of the Partridge Family, “Orville and Wilbur Did It” is ridiculously rich with off-the-wall, utterly believable dialogue. Zellnik’s script veers from innocuously uplifting (“I want to inspire people. To transform them.”) to wholly inappropriate yet oddly poignant(“If there’s anything I learned from Grindr, it’s that we all deserve love and respect.”). Peppered by composer Eric Svejcar’s Zoom-worthy musical numbers, “Orville and Wilbur Did It” explores the manic teeter-totter ride that is a career in the arts — or really, a career in anything.
Our heroes are all memorably played by Hobgood’s young cast. Scraggs (Josh Odor) is a handsome, shady brooder forever wounded by emotionally scarring incident at Applebee’s. (“Sooner or later,” he grimly intones in one of the script’s saddest/funniest one-liners, “Applebee’s happens to everyone.”)
Pandro (Joey Romaine) is a gentle, sad-eyed twentysomething still stinging from the soul-crushing words of an insensitive high school drama teacher. Jen (Jessica London-Shields) is the stage manager, handing out notes (“Obviously, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t fall off the stage”) and driving the van with the a mix of don’t-mess-with-me authority and weirdly directed maternal protectiveness.
Melitta (Morgan McNaught) is an African-American “blacktress” concerned with whether she reads as too “slavey” on stage and preoccupied with a “vision board” that is equal parts aspiration and denial. Zach (Evan Linder) and Jasper (Kevin Stangler) play the brothers Wright for TDI, stars whose creative liberties with the script result in TDI being banned from the state of Minnesota.
Finally, there’s X (played by Alex Grelle, who late in the second act, reveals that he possesses the singularly most intriguing pair of legs in Chicago’s theatrosphere), a flaming hot mess of a young man who would probably benefit from a 72-hour psych hold.
The cast captures the idiosyncrasies and insecurities of this misbegotten travelling troupe down to the smallest facial tic. As for the show’s twisted, invigorating musical finale, it’s absolutely celebratory.
The motley crew of TDI Productions might crash and burn as they try to bring the Wright brothers to the masses. But New Colony flies high. You probably won’t learn a thing about the early history of aviation in the show, but you’ll be cheering for the titular brothers and their cohorts throughout.