NY Review: 'The Book of Everything'

Belvoir and Theatre of Image at the New Victory Theater

Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

April 21, 2012

Photo by Heidrun Lohr
Get yourself a ticket for "The Book of Everything" immediately. And while you're at it, get one for everyone in your family—from fourth graders to grannies—because once word gets out about this exceptional show, a sold-out sign is surely all you'll be able to see.

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

Subscribe to Back Stage

More Off Broadway


Unscripted Blog

Visit Unscripted »


Back Stage Video

Duncan Stewart, director of casting at National Artists Management Company, talks about opening every submission and what he wants to see in a headshot.; casting; Duncan Stewart; headshot; new york city; open submissions; Duncan Steward, director of casting, talks about what he wants from an actor in a general meeting, mainly truth, likability, and lack of ego.; advice; casting; Duncan Stewart; new york city; tips; Duncan Stewart, director of casting, talks about what he expects from an audition and common mistakes actors make.; advice; auditions; casting; Duncan Stewart; new york city; Alaine Alldaffer breaks down the real role of a casting direcor.; Alaine Alldaffer; casting; casting director; Grey Gardens; play; stage; theater; Casting director Alaine Alldaffer talks about casting "Saved" and all the misconceptions about being an actor in New York City.; Alaine Alldaffer; casting director; NYC theatre; play; saved; NY casting director Bernie Telsey describes what actors need to know before walking into an audition. (Part 1 of 2) ; Bernie Telsey; casting director; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about working on soap operas. (Part 1 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teschner; soap opera; NY casting director Bernie Telsey describes how to give your best audition. (Part 2 of 2) ; Bernie Telsey; casting director; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about working on soap operas. Need only beautiful people apply? (Part 2 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teshner; soap opera; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about auditioning for soap operas. (Part 3 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teschner; soap opera; Videos for the Back Stage News & Features section.