BAM! ZAP! SPROING! Never fear, Team of Heroes is here! At the Annex Theatre, that is! Deftly directed by Jaime Roberts, playwright Alexander Harris’ fun-filled Team of Heroes: Behind Closed Doors is an action movie on stage, complete with previews, commercial sponsors, flashbacks, and inventive special effects. Be prepared for an energetic romp through a world where superheroes are managed by foul-mouthed corporate suits and created by super serum injections brewed by a dapper gorilla.
The play reveals the personal stories of the fearsome foursome, Jason Sharp as “The Cap’n,” the leader, your classic all-American hero with a glinting white smile; Danielle Daggerty as “Miss Dixie,” a Southern belle with mind control powers and a burgeoning conscience; “Shock Wave,” played by Nik Doner, a hapless romantic with electromagnetic powers and a short attention span; and Tracy Leigh as “Madame Mayhem,” a telekinetic giantess with a bad attitude and some skeletons in her closet.
The special effects are positively delightful – thanks to FX Team Max Reichlin, Emily Sershon, and Ian Johnston, there is no “you can’t do that on stage” in this production. Hostages hang from the nose of Teddy Roosevelt’s visage on Mount Rushmore, heroes send chairs across the room and paintings crashing to the floor with a glance, and there’s one very cool zip-lining bit. Casey Brown’s fight choreography is excellent. An Entrapment-meets-Mission Impossible museum heist, complete with security lasers and fog, is a scene to be savored.
Which brings us to the villains. Rachel Jackson plays the main supervillain Chaos Theory, a stunted child genius with a very strange attachment to Scottish hand-puppet Mr. Randy, basically The Count’s evil brother from Avenue Q. Angela DiMarco plays the Team’s manager, Melody Knox, who pivots between virtuous and sell-out – is the Team of Heroes run by a hard-nosed business woman who knows what’s best, or is this another PR ploy meant to bring more value to the merch? Ryan Higgins’ transformations from monosyllabic caveman villain Earthquake to sleazy talk show host Dick Engelbert to a vodka-swilling Russian (and communist, obviously) robber are delightful.
Intermission tingles with anticipation for the second act, which is unfortunately where the show begins to flag. The intention is to keep up the cinematic feel, but the constant flashbacks chop up the action (and the comedic timing). There’s also a wayward dramatic storyline about Madame Mayhem’s mother’s relationship with aging superhero Ace Johnson ( . . .yeah, what?). If the focus was supposed to be on Mayhem’s relationship with her envious mother, super-wannabe Black Swallow, then it got lost in this drawn-out love story. Ashley Bagwell is spot on as the boorish Ace Johnson and Jana Hutchison plays Black Swallow with empathy, but their scenes could have been more economically written. Their characters are not so complicated that multiple rehashings of their doubts, fears, and penchant for Punish Me, Superhero sex games are necessary.
Similarly, the frequent interruptions for mockumentary interviews with the Team of Heroes (either a clumsy homage or a blatant copying of The Incredibles’ opening) didn’t add any information that couldn’t have been written into the next scene. That being said, Daggerty and Sharp are especially adept at embodying their pre-super selves, giving the audience a glimpse at how far they’ve come. And the aforementioned gorilla scene in the second act, played with nuance (if you can believe it) by Sam Hagen, is one of the best scenes in the show.
When the play ends, you get the feeling that you’re missing something. This production is apparently a prequel, so too bad for those who missed Harris’ previous work, but rumor has it there’s another installment on the way. Still, for those aching for a very inventive night at the theatre, Team of Heroes: Behind Closed Doors is absolutely worth a look and, truly, who doesn’t need to be rescued every once and awhile?
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