Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

how i learned to become a Superhero Soars

The new play how i learned to become a Superhero sneaks up on you.  Expectations played a large part in my enjoyment, so I want to undersell the piece.  Too much hype or expectations raised too high might well doom a play as fragile and simply touching as Superhero.  The show benefits from lower expectations.
Gwynneth Bensen, Sean Logan and Christopher Sears
Superhero plays out in a small space, with homemade sets built from painted boxes.  It begins with some humorously awkward openings, where the three heroes are introduced.  Safety Pilot is the Ohio raised younger brother of a man who has escaped the mid-west to Brooklyn.  Guardian Angel is a young woman with a loved one that was abducted and now speaks only in clichés.  And Hope is a shy and goofy young man who wants to be helpful and remembered in nearly equal parts.
Their stories are interwoven as we see them in action, both touching and goofy.  Early on, it is
Sean Logan as Hope with Christina Norris
unclear if these people are deluded or understand their limitations.  The show starts by laughing at them, while slowly building empathy for these individuals.  Ultimately we are privy to the reasons they have resorted to building these characters, and then the sophomoric sets and jokes fall by the wayside as we identify with the universal needs that these alter-egos fulfill.
Gwynneth Bensen plays Guardian Angel with a raw pain which she covers with sarcasm and anger.  She has a single mission in life, no matter how improbable it seems, to find an outlet for her rage.  Christopher Sears plays Safety Pilot as a stunned young man who is suddenly alone and set to live with a brother that abandoned him.  He transforms into the only person who stood up for him.  Sean Logan plays Hope with a heartbreaking earnestness.  Hope, the hero, is trying to bring dreams of a better future to those that have none, himself most of all. 
Christopher Sears as Safety Pilot with Zack Griffiths and Curran Connor
What makes how i learned to become a Superhero relatable is that these characters aren’t responding to outlandish circumstances; there are no planets blowing up or radioactive bug bites.  These people find real life tragedies too much to cope with, and so they invent a personality that can overcome the problems.  There responses are painful inadequate for the tasks they have set up for themselves.  The outcomes are often painful in a way that is funny and sad, but never pitiful.
The acting is very good, even though you don’t notice it until the superhero masks drop a little.  Beyond the superheroes, Curran Connor, playing two roles (foil in one and sidekick in another), grounds the play beautifully and is a standout in an excellent cast.
This is playwright Dennis Flanagan’s second full length play and it displays a beautiful sense of organic flow.  Director Christopher Klinger does a wonderful job of letting the show revel itself to the audience.  Superhero doesn’t leave you with a nice set of uniform answers, but with a feeling that we are all in this together.

how i learned to become a Superhero
Playwright: Dennis Flanagan
Director: Christopher Klinger
Cast: Gwynneth Bensen, Curran Conner, Mara Gannon, Zack Griffiths, Sean Logan, Robert Manning Jr. Christina Norris, Christopher Sears, Carrie Watt

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