Leaping literacy

Out of Orbit -- You Choose the Adventure!

Book by Brianna Tyson, book and lyrics by Ren Casey
Directed by Catherine Ward
Musical direction by Jad Bernardo
Vital Children’s Theatre
The McGinn Cazale Theater
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut

It’s an old dilemma: what makes Johnny read? -- in this case, it was an exciting, appropriately exhilarating, mission to save the world launched by the narrator (Dustin Tyler Moore)’s distaste for reading. Out of Orbit engaged its young audience by sharing the fun. It was “all systems go” as the audience chose the strategies for moving the action forward -- reading was not a spectator sport. Special kudos to the Hero (Shawn Shafner), the literary counterpart of the boy narrator; and especially to Kenneth Scott Thompson (Boss and Regor) and Amanda-Adair Brown as Victoria, the charming but dangerous ’droid, for their enchanting characterizations. In addition, Mom (Ashley Brooke) was splendidly screechy, serving up appropriate doses of tuna casserole and reading requirements. Fellow astronauts (Shane Camp and Kathryn Boynton) kept the mission on course.

While the story and music might benefit from a little more tweaking -- as in more-more-more music -- there are many witty turns, and the excellent direction (Catherine Ward) kept the suspense. This hard-working cast would have benefited from some additional stagecraft to complement their comedy -- additional music or sound effects, too, would have smoothed transitions, though the director clearly made a decision to moderate the effects for the youngest spectators.

Props (Amy Kitzhaber) and costumes added to the drama and suited the well-chosen comedy style. The set design was spartan, but the two main pieces -- a boy-sized book, and a giant book of the imagination -- made a simple and useful point about living large in the imagination, as if they formed an imaginary telescope to aid the audience’s cosmic problem-solving. The choreography (Michele Marie Traina) was excellent, resulting in a comic-book simulation of the perils of space flight. Lighting (Amith Chandrashaker) and set design (Katy Tucker) were deliberately simple, keeping the focus on the acting and the appeal to younger children. Put this story in your orbit. The Earth is waiting for people to make good choices -- whichever way the plot turns.

Box Score:

Writing: 1/Music: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

Copyright 2006 Deborah S. Greenhut