With a somewhat fantastical and very contorted plot, The Grown-Up opens serenely, with young Kai listening to a story his grandfather tells him. And then, through events that neither he nor the audience entirely understands, he is whisked away to other places and times by the powers of a magical doorknob.
After that, the seats of the Bingham Theatre ought to be equipped with seatbelts, because the audience is in for a frenetic and turbulent ride.
Playwright Jordan Harrison is clever at every turn in this, his fifth Humana Festival offering, poking fun at current events, alluding to contemporary cultural happenings, and even playfully panning his own work.
This is “a story with too much plot,” the characters say several times throughout the whirlwind 70 minute performance. Though this is said in reference to other events in the play, it is no doubt meant about the play itself as well.
And the characters are correct. This is a story with too much plot. But The Grown-Up doesn’t apologize for that fact, or for the confusion that it can thrust upon its audience as they struggle to connect the dots.
But despite the multi-veined plotline, The Grown-Up has eloquent themes. Themes of resurrecting innocence; of the powers of imagination, and of not focusing on the little things—because life passes by all too quickly. And those aren’t difficult to decipher.
The skillful ensemble delivers with focused intent. The rapid-fire delivery of Harrison’s words is supported by the quick action and interplay between cast members who function both as multiple characters and as narrators for the voices inside other character’s heads. At times, the pace is too quick, resulting in the audience leaning forward in their seats, trying not to miss anything.
There is also some inconsistency with prop use in the production. Throughout most of the play, the use of mime is employed, save for one instance when a comb and nail clippers appear, and another when various garments are introduced. Perhaps the most unfortunate inconsistency in the production is at the end when the magic doorknob, seen up to this point only in the audience’s imagination, makes an actual appearance; and for a moment, the enchantment of the play is suspended.
Despite its minor imperfections, The Grown-Up is a rare treat. Because even as it barrages us with a multitude of storylines, it tells us to let go. To not get caught up in the particulars. To be in the moment, and let the play take us wherever it goes.
Come to think of it, that just might be a good way to live life too.
The Grown-Up is directed by Ken Rus Schmoll and features Matthew Stadelmann, Brooke Bloom, Paul Niebanck, Tiffany Villarin, Chris Murray, and David Ryan Smith. It is part of the 38th Annual Humana Festival at Actors Theatre and continues through April 6. Tickets may be purchased online or through the Actors Theatre box office by calling 502-584-1205.
Image: B.Brymer/Actors Theatre Louisville