Myth, magic, and super powers collided at last night's production of The Sparrow, which opened at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater.
The House Theatre of Chicago brought their show (which debuted in 2007) to Miami for a month-long run, and it's probably the most original production seen on the South Florida stage so far this year.
Emily Book (played movingly by Carolyn Defrin) returns to her hometown
ten years after a tragic school bus accident took the lives of her
entire second grade class, leaving her as the lone survivor. Now,
looking to spend her senior year attending the town's high school, she
must come to grips with not only being the awkward outsider, but also as
a constant walking reminder of the dreadful events of a decade ago.
But there's also this: Emily hides a secret -- she has supernatural powers. And while her special powers are a secret to everyone in her small rural town, there are other mysteries she might be hiding as well. A young Biology teacher, Mr. Christopher (Shawn Pfautsch), befriends Emily and encourages her to embrace the new chapter in her life. They share a common bond in a love of reading, and his youthful energy and genuine concern for her helps Emily gain her footing. Mr. Christopher eventually introduces her to the charming and popular Jenny (played with bubbly exuberance by Paige Hoffman).
But things quickly turn sour when Jenny hatches a plan to have her cheerleading squad throw her up to the rafters during a game so she can tear down the school's rival's team banner. Emily tries to discourage her from attempting the dangerous trick, forcing Jenny to have Emily stripped to her underwear and stuffed into a gym locker.
It's here where the story takes off as the town is exposed to Emily's supernatural secret when she's forced to break free from the locker and use her powers to save Jenny. It's an iconic moment familiar to most superhero stories. The brooding outsider not only breaks free from a literal and figurative trap, she also dons a costume (in this case, Emily trades in her all-black wardrobe for a white cheerleading outfit with a red S for 'Sparrows' strewn across the chest). It's a comic book with a beating heart, and it works splendidly. It's a dramatic and exhilarating scene, and the tone is set for the remainder of the tale. How will the town cope with the new "super girl?" And will Emily's buried secret be her undoing?
Nathan Allen's direction is flawless, and the play's special effects inventive. It's obvious that the cast is genuinely having a great time performing their quick banter and kinetic choreography. A scene where the school plays its rival in a basketball game is especially riveting and fun.
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The play already has plenty of heart on its own, but the soundtrack, composed by Kevin O'Donnell, makes it soar with a Radiohead-like score.
A fantasy story about acceptance, teenage angst, and the power of being who you are wrapped with telekinetic powers is a fascinating concept to bring to a live stage, and director Allen's unique script and the House Theatre of Chicago's cast pull it off wonderfully. The Sparrow presents the best of fresh theatre storytelling. It's original, imaginative, and entertaining as hell. Go see it before it flies back to Chicago.
The Sparrow runs through May 1 at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater (1300 Biscayne Blvd.). Tickets are $50. Visit arshtcenter.org or call 305-949-6722.