"The Grown Up" at Out of Box Theatre, November 8-17, 2019
Title: The Crystal Doorknob
Hand it to Topher Payne -- at the moment, he has two terrific shows running concurrently: "Swell Party" at Onstage Atlanta, which he wrote, and "The Grown Up" at Out of Box Theatre, which he directed and designed. The two are quite different in tone, with "The Grown Up" having a gentle, elegiac quality and a fairy tale plot that contains parallels to Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Snow Queen."
The action takes place in a drably elegant playing space, with gray fabrics draped on the walls, jagged valences above. A two-foot-high platform with an indentation in its front and gaps in its sides provides elevation for numerous scenes; benches and chairs to the sides of the stage provide seating for some scenes and for actors when not engaged in the onstage action. Bradley Rudy’s lighting design adds atmosphere to heighten the impact of individual scenes. Gossamer fabric panels are used to great effect to suggest waves, sheets, and kelp.
Zip Rampy’s sound blends well with the onstage action, with some of Annie Cook’s original music seemingly emanating from a transistor radio held by a sailor. Other music provides transitions between scenes, which flow seamlessly one into another.
All the actors portray a variety of characters, although central figure Kai (Pat Young) is present throughout, albeit appearing at different ages. Mr. Payne has encouraged his actors to make distinct choices for each of their roles, and Eric Lang and Parris Sarter take full advantage to show their skills to create wildly dissimilar characters. Bob Smith, Audrae Peterson, and Andy Stanesic do too, but generally with less stage time front and center.
Jordan Harrison’s script flows through time and space, showing us the origin and use of a magical crystal doorknob. The cast acts as a true ensemble, narrating bits as others take on the characters currently in focus, and performing synchronized movements to point up the action. It’s a delightfully directed production that continually goes in unexpected directions.
"The Grown Up" has a childlike quality, although gay relationships and death make appearances. The storyline turns a tall tale into reality. Or is it reality at all? We know Kai is a writer and that he has written a story that bears a tremendous resemblance to what we see on stage. The magic of the tale retains a bit of mystery, letting the audience choose how much credence to give to the fantastical elements of the play.
Topher Payne has done it again, this time as a director and designer.