Often, when I’m watching a play of a particular quality, it feels as if I’m watching something miraculous. That somehow all of these disparate elements can come together to create such moments of wonder, there must be some curious alchemy at work. So as I sit, watching Capital T’s newest, their latest collaboration with writer Mickle Maher, a mystical work called “It Is Magic”, I can’t help but sneak a grin. This hilarious, surprisingly harrowing tale of the troubled production of an all-adult version of “The Three Pigs”, shows the true sorcery at the heart of the theatre. A talented cast and a skilled production team, all under the deft hands of director Mark Pickell, come together to create a night of theatre that must be seen to be believed.
The play begins in a very inauspicious locale, the basement of a community theatre somewhere in the Midwest. Here, we follow director Deb and her sister, struggling actress Sandy, as they attempt to find the perfect lead for their adult version of “The Three Pigs”, as a production of Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play” debuts upstairs. When a strange woman appears for her audition, things explode in a glorious, mythology-fueled way that takes the play in a bold, unique, and absolutely insane direction. By the time the play reaches it end, we’ll find fire, blood, and a sense of dark wonder that the audience would have never seen coming from the play’s simple beginning.
Casting Katherine Catmull and Rebecca Robinson as sisters is such inspired casting that one wonders why directors haven’t been doing it for years. Watching these two celebrated actresses work together is one of the true highlights of the play, their chemistry jaw-dropping. Catmull’s stolid passion plays perfectly against Robinson’s more free-spirited Sandy, and once the manic energy of Jill Blackwood is thrown into the mix, the entire theatre becomes electric. The three together create an acting masterclass, with each playing off the other with gusto to create moments of pure theatrical enchantment. These three, working together, create such an enthralling atmosphere that they become the most interesting thing in the room, and once the play reaches it’s end, you’d give anything just to spend another moment in their presence.
With performances as powerful as those three, it would be a task for even the most seasoned actor to match them, which is what makes John Christopher’s performance as Tim so impressive. The actor is quickly becoming one of the empathetic performers in Austin theatre, and here he uses this ability to add a touch of softness to what can come across as a hard, cynical production for most of its running time. Whether he’s running his ludicrous lines for his Big Bad Wolf auditions, or dripping with the blood of a theatre critic, he tackles his role with a refreshing earnestness that helps you sympathize with his plight. Some of the play’s funniest moments stem from how his touching sincerity meshes with the sometimes outrageous events happening on stage, acting as an Everyman to the wildness whirling all around him.
And then there’s Robert Pierson. After his decimating performance in “The Strangerer”, it’s obvious that Pierson is a perfect fit for the work of Mickle Maher, and he uses his manic energy perfectly in his performance as charismatic artistic director, and perhaps eldritch horror, Ken. Here, Pierson uses this energy to imbue Ken with a sense of effortless charm, which as the play goes on he starts to weaponize to hypnotize, and even manipulate the audience. The things we see him do on stage can be verge on pure evil, and its a testament to his talents that the audience follows his on his journey, even to its final, fiery end. “It Is Magic” goes to some bizarre places, even for a Maher play, so its to Pierson’s credit (and to the credit of the rest of this expert cast), that the play remains, if not believable, never less than enthralling.
“It Is Magic” may seem like a clever, attention-grabbing title, but as you leave the theatre, vapor still on your breath, eyes dazzled by the flashing lights of Patrick Anthony’s clever lighting design, you’ll find it’s a simple truth. What we see on stage is nothing short of witchcraft, the performers bringing forth something awe-inspiring, something primal, something abyssal. Our shared experience can only be explained by a simple phrase: It. Is. Magic.
“It Is Magic” is playing at the Hyde Park Theatre through November 23rd. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit capitalttheatre.org.
Image courtesy of Capital T Theatre.