The Vortex's staging of Reina Hardy's magical new play Changelings casts a uniquely compelling spell
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., Jan. 23, 2015
ChangelingsThe Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 512/478-5282
Through Feb. 7
Running time: 2 hr., 10 min.
The most powerful plays send audiences to an unknown universe, envelop them in it, and leave them begging to remain there long after the final bows. Such a feat may be accomplished with the effective use of any number of tools – an engaging story, striking visuals, and believable acting chiefly among them. Changelings, now running at the Vortex, succeeds on all these fronts and more, thrusting its onlookers into a twisted, fantastical world of fairies and spells where the stakes are high and the unbelievable has become the everyday. Keep your babies close, turn your shirt inside out, and dive headfirst into this realm where up is down and reality has been kicked to the curb.
Penned by inimitable Michener Center writer Reina Hardy, author of the critically acclaimed Stars and Barmen, which debuted at the Vortex in 2013, Changelings opens with what appears to be a normal outing for a normal couple, Megan Powers (Laura Ray) and her fiancé, Timothy Stamp (Zac Carr). While tuxedo shopping the day before their wedding, the two are interrupted by Megan's brother Luther (Ben McLemore), who, to put it lightly, completely ruins the whole day by divulging the Powers family's secret to the unsuspecting groom-to-be. Having your family secret revealed is always a downer, I'd guess, but it's even more of one when that secret deals with an entire magical world and a vindictive fairy queen with a penchant for stealing babies. As you can probably already tell, Hardy's script is anything but run-of-the-mill; combining Austin with Fairyland, beautiful prose with Shakespearean-sounding verse, and the outlandish with the obscene, Hardy has imagined a uniquely compelling tale, the likes of which may be uncharted territory for local stages.
And who better to tackle this tricky material than renowned director Rudy Ramirez, whose previous projects point toward an affinity for exactly this type of work? Once again, Ramirez has helmed a high-quality production and, as with the recent production of Still Now, which he staged, one that relies heavily on movement. Changelings features a top-notch fairy movement chorus: Winnie Hsia, Jonathan Itchon, Melissa Treviño, and Joanna Wright, many of whom have previous acrobatic experience, which is greatly utilized here. Overall, the entire production is visually arresting. Ann Marie Gordon's scenic design, which looks as though it were ripped out of a pop-up book, lends the perfect fairy-tale feel to the experience and is complemented by Patrick Anthony's dreamlike lighting. Jennifer Davis' costumes are equally fantastical, while elegantly intricate. The lovely aesthetics are rounded out by Chris Humphrey's original music, which seamlessly scores the piece.
Having a skillful cast to realize such an innovative new work is imperative to its effectiveness, and again this need is met. As the Wicked Child, Gricelda Silva is at once hilarious and formidable. Timothy Stamp, aspiring young magician, is brought to life by Carr's naturalistic, approachable portrayal. And while there really are no weak links in this talented group, standout performances are also given by Ray, McLemore, and Travis Bedard. Effortlessly combining the talents of all who contributed to the production, Changelings transports its audience to an unfamiliar place that, by the end of the night, they just might not be ready to leave.