The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, October 22, 2010, Arts

The Fantasticks

B. Iden Payne Theatre, 23rd & San Jacinto, 477-6060

Through Oct. 24
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

Fans of Shakespeare should enjoy Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones' The Fantasticks, now in production from the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance. The musical, noted for achieving the status of longest-running musical of all time, draws on Shakespeare's works in a way that makes you think twice before dismissing the musical as last century's charming oddity. There are two lovers, a story of deception and romance, warring families, a couple of clowns, plenty of direct references in the language, and moreover, a storyline as pure as one could hope for.

Luisa (Haley Hussey) and Matt (Bryan Ballew) are two young lovers who live next door to each other and long to be together but who are prevented by the towering wall that their feuding fathers have erected between their houses. Yet it's soon revealed that the fathers (Joey LePage and Zach Ullah) have been playing a joke on them the whole time. In fact, they're the best of friends, and they figured long ago that the only way to make their children fall in love with each other was to do everything in their power to deny them. To seal the deal, they engage the services of El Gallo the magician (Dan Sullivan) to play a hoax. He'll kidnap Luisa, and once Matt rescues her, their love will be sealed.

Plus there's Act II. But surprises are fun.

The production runs a very long two and a half hours. That run-time – or more accurately, the sluggish pacing – is itself a wall that prevented me from truly appreciating the play. Everyone working on the show, from the designers to the musicians to the performers, seems to possess a wealth of talent and creativity. Rod Caspers' direction is also strong in many ways, except for that pacing. As a result, dead air dominated the show in a way that didn't do justice to the performances or the design ideas.

When Act II does arrive and kick into gear, however, the appeal of The Fantasticks starts to shine through. Sure, there's some zany stuff that really throws you back to mid-20th century innovations in American theatre, but the heart of the play and the Shakespearean lesson learned is that we can only truly love one another after we have survived a journey – and then come back home.

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