Giants Have Us in Their Books

Local Arts Reviews

Giants Have Us In Their Books: Magic Buried Under the Realism

Victory Grill,

through February 23

Running Time: 1 hr, 50 min

There are moments of magic in this Shard Live Performance Collective production of Giants Have Us in Their Books, Jose Rivera's five-play take on human vices and virtues, but they are few and far between in an evening that is filled with urban and suburban angst, folly, and outright nastiness. For, when you strip the magic out of "magical realism" -- the genre where most of playwright Jose Rivera's stories live their theatrical lives -- you're left with ... realism. And when stories are filled with Nazis and the perverted, the narcissistic and the ignorant, the foolhardy and the grotesque, there has to be some magic to overcome the sheer weight of grim reality that Rivera has shoveled into his little plays.

Each of these five mini-plays has its own director, but the consistency of the performances is testament to a single, sharp, and clear vision of the world that all five plays inhabit. What the young actors of Shard really have going for them is their complete immersion in their work; they are unswervingly committed to their characters. Then those occasional moments of magic offer a brief respite from the wash of shrillness and stupefying madness in which we modern humans wallow.

The two standout plays of the five are the harrowing vanity-meets-fascism turn, Crooked Cross, and the evening's final work, Winged Man (produced in association with Anakreontic Theatre Lab). In the former, a high-school girl dons swastika earrings, given to her by her thug/Nazi boyfriend. In her vanity, she refuses to acknowledge the earrings as anything more than a cool design. Her life devolves into a nightmare of right-wing thuggery and a total loss of control over her existence. Leah Roberson plays the defiant, doomed Miriam passionately but never lets the character seem unreal. Derek Mudd, as thug-boyfriend Foogman, and Shaun Casey, as eerie Nazi (the real deal) Blue Eyes, turn in convincing and frightening performances, each in turn burying vain, stupid Miriam deeper in the mess she's made. Director Steve Forth effectively stuffs the play with a sense of perpetual, murderous threat. Winged Man is as close to Rivera's magical realism as the evening's offerings get, where yet another young girl bears the child of a fabled, flying man. Her struggle is quite real, however, dealing with a trailer-trash mom, high school gossip, and the realities of being pregnant and giving birth. Director/choreographers Jenny Larson and Kristin Byers find moments of magic mostly in the simple and often lovely movements of actress Brandi Forth.

The cast is young, and that means that from start to finish they are exuberant with intensity. Their youth means that it is also evident that all have much to learn about the basics of telling stories on stage when the only real tools they have are their bodies and voices. Most telling are those magical moments cut short because an actor appears not to trust that the simple gesture works as strongly as the shout or the arms flung wide. There are moments of magic in Rivera's fraught world, but it takes a stout, patient heart to find them, buried under so much horror passing for normality.

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Giants Have Us In Their Books, Shard Live Performance Collective, Jose Rivera, Crooked Cross, Winged Man, Anakreontic Theatre Lab, Leah Roberson, Derek Mudd, Shaun Casey, Steve Forth, Jenny Larson, Kristin Byers, Brandi Forth

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