Conceived by Jason Loewith
Written by Jason Loewith & Justin D. M. Palmer
Based on the novel by Karel Capek
Directed by Jason Loewith
Produced by next Theatre
At the Mullady Theatre on the Loyola University campus
Heavy symbol fuels dystopian drama
Taking a Czech novel from the 1930’s translating it and adapting it to the stage is a difficult task but Jason Loewith and Justin D. M. Palmer has succeeded in creating a fascinating world where man’s self destructive nature finds its match. War With The Newts, now in a world premiere by Next Theatre, is a cautionary tale rich in symbolism presented with expert staging utilizing the large Loyola University Mullady Theatre space to create the illusion of sea creatures taking over the world.
The story is set against the backdrop of the onset of World War II based on Czech writer Karel Capek’s writings. It serves as a timely satire of a global economy and world leaders planting the seeds of its own destruction. Set Designer Collette Pollard and lighting designer Keith Parham added depth and eeriness to the tale.
When Captain Van Toch (Steve Pickering) arrives at industrialist H. H. Bondy’s (Will Zahm) home, the butler Frantisek Povondra’s decision to announce the unexpected sailor sets off a series of events that changes the world forever. The Captain tells of a just discovered highly-intelligent breed of newts (amphibian Salamanders) that he taught to harvest pearls from beneath the sea. Bondy’s greed justifies enslaving the newts as he uses them for land and sea projects that enhances human wealth. The newts only want an expanding shoreline to live in as their numbers explode. The newts quickly and completely learn to speak, read and acquire the necessary skills to challenge all of man’s power over the environment.
Director Loewirth devised several effective scenes giving us the illusion of the emerging newts. We see how the butler, Povondra (Joesph Wycoff) becomes first fascinated, then obsessed with the emergence of the newts from sea creatures to humanoids. He is determined to chronicle the newts story as tensions grow between humans and the newts in a lead-up total war.
This play has its moments and once it is trimmed will emerge as a power cautionary tale. It now takes too long before we actually meet the newts. Michael Montenegro’s newt puppets could use more exposure once we meet them. An opportunity is missed her as they could have had the newt puppets creep in and out of the last few scenes. I’d also get rid of the long academic paper reading by the professor (Will Zahrm) during the intermission that found folks not sure whether to listen or take a break.
War With The Newts features emotionally truthful performances by Steve Pickering and, Joseph Wycoff – who navigates self destructive behavior deftly. I’d advise trimming the work down to a 90 minute tight paced drama to garner a more explosive impact. As it plays now, War With The Newts is a puzzling work that draws us in and keeps us engaged. It is well worth seeing.
At Mullady Theatre, 1125 W. Loyola Ave., Chicago, IL, call 847-475-1875 or www.nexttheatre.org, tickets $20 0 $40, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, special Wednesday matinee on June 9 & 16 at 1 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission.