Directed by Robin Witt
At Steep Theatre, Chicago
“Brilliant” is sure an appropriate title word to describe an outstanding USA premiere of a British play.
Over the last few years, Steep Theatre has found several terrific new British plays, mostly from young up-and-coming writers. Their latest discovery, Brilliant Adventures by Alistar Mcdowall, may be their finest production yet! McDowall is a fresh voice who utilizes his birthplace, Middlesbrough, England (called “Boro”)-an economically depressed area with abandoned homes and 25% unemployment (think Detroit)-and a group of young folks struggling to survive. With unique characters sporting thick Yorky accents that are easily understood (credit dialect coach Kendra Thulin) and a set design of a dingy warn-out local flat (by Dan Stratton), we become captivated by desperate folks lead by Luke (Curtis Edward Jackson and later by his alter ego Ty Olwin). Luke is a self educated genius (a savant really) who wants to be left alone to keep working on his experiments. It seems that he has invented a machine that could change the world by altering the time-space continuum.
He is constantly bothered by his lonely, underappreciated friend Greg (the likable, simple guy played terrifically by Brandon Rivera) – who is source of much humor. But when Luke’s brother Rob (Ryan McBride) enters with an older drug infested man kept in a dog collar and made to walk on all fours, we see a different type of dysfunctional family! The man (Will Kinnear) is Rob and Luke’s drug addicted father. We also learn that older bro Rob has raised and protected his younger gifted bro Luke. Luke is anti-social, nervous, and suffers from a severe stuttering speech impediment. While living in his new digs, Luke has invented a device (in a large cardboard box) that can revolutionize the world, but Luke is quite protective of his invention. Luke enjoys his goldfish living in his impressive bowl (used later as a plot device.)
Meanwhile, Rob wants Luke to either get a job or join his drug selling enterprise. Greg is willing to join Rob, but Rob sees Greg as a fool. Luke doesn’t want to work; he’d rather keep inventing things in his flat. The constant problem of surviving the dire poverty surrounding Middlesbrough looms over everyone. Reckless actions by Rob only complicate matters.
However, things change when a London criminal with loads of cash and an epic idea on how to control and ‘own’ the Boro arrives. Ben (Peter Moore) is an eerie sort who hires Rob and Greg as pawns in his scheme, but he becomes fascinated with Luke’s device. Ben offers cash and a house for Rob and Luke for the machine as he sees the potential to make loads of money from it. Luke adamantly refuses Ben’s offers.
Things get exciting and unpredictable in act two after we hear a monologue from Man (the father) that fills in the needed back story that propels the action to come. I’ll not say more so as not to spoil the clever twists and plausible action of this terrifically structured play.
The ensemble work here is outstanding, lead by Curtis Edward Jackson, Brandon Rivera and Peter Moore. This tightly directed and nimble staging is engaging as it gets us to the edge of our seats in anticipation of what is to happen next. We empathize with the characters, we cheer for some and we try guessing the conclusion, since McDowall’s ending is abrupt. All the clues are there, and we leave impressed. Brilliant Adventures is one of the best productions of 2015. It will suck you in and keep you engaged throughout. Kudos to Steep Theatre for finding such a wonderful play – then mounting such a fine production. Don’t miss this unique blend of drama, magic realism, and sci-fi that proves that there is nothing as powerful as live theatre!
Talk Theate in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 9, 2015
For more info checkout the Brilliant Adventures page at theatreinchicago.com
At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn, Chicago, IL, call 866-811-4111. www.steeptheatre.com, tickets $25, reserved seat tixs $35, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm , Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours 10 minutes with intermission, through August 15, 2015