NY Review: 'The Book of Everything'
Belvoir and Theatre of Image at the New Victory Theater
Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla
April 21, 2012
Proffering the most worthwhile two-and-a-quarter-hours you are ever likely to spend in a theater, this remarkable production teaches children how to endure the worst of circumstances, how to conquer personal fears, and how courage, confrontation, and transparency can correct the wrongs of the world. Sagely adapted by Richard Tulloch from a Dutch children's novel by Guus Kuijer, the play adopts a wonderfully irreverent and at times satirical tone that provides the lighthearted spirit necessary to leaven the presentation of the show's disturbing events and ideas.
Keenly directed by Neil Armfield, "Everything" is delivered in a self-consciously theatrical style: A man plays a dog, sound effects are made by actors in full view of the audience, a woman holding a leafy branch represents a tree, and the cast comes out into the house at intermission to distribute green ping pong balls that we throw on cue in the second act to represent an onslaught of frogs. The deliberately imaginative style is another wise move toward making this frightening story feel true yet unreal enough that we can distance ourselves from its emotional wallop to thoughtfully contemplate its weighty themes.
The superb play, which premiered in Sydney in 2009-2010 and then toured across Australia, is winningly rendered by a team of expert Australian actors. In a tour de force performance as the endearing protagonist, 9-year-old Thomas Klopper, adult actor Matthew Whittet convincingly conjures a childlike persona that we instantly adore, are constantly amused by, and grow to utterly respect. While his magical performance is what keeps us caring, the supporting players frame him magnificently. John Leary is an appealingly hip Jesus Christ, while Peter Carroll is detestable as Thomas' fundamentalist Christian father. We cringe watching the stern patriarch beat his wife and almost cry when he harshly paddles Thomas simply because his son innocently mispronounced the word "transgressions" during a church meeting.
Julie Forsyth gives an astutely comic performance as the "witch" who lives next door, and Deborah Kennedy is a scream as Thomas's feisty aunt, who gets slugged by her husband for having the nerve to wear trousers in the early 1950s. The actors' work is richly supported by Kim Carpenter's spot-on costumes and ingenious set, a giant book that sits center stage and reveals a new locale with the flip of each of its pages.
"The Book of Everything" should be required viewing for every kid who wants to grow up to be happy and every adult who wants to rid the world of injustice.
Presented by the New 42nd Street at the New Victory Theater, 209 W. 42nd St., NYC. April 20–29. Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 7 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (646) 223-3010 or www.newvictory.org
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