Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Theater review: Dani Girl at Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in Addison
You might cry at the end of Dani Girl but still walk out of the theatre with a joyful heart.
A hospital room with two beds, one not occupied and one filled with stuffed animals. There’s food, toys, cards and all the things around to make a place feel like a home – and the feeling is that this has been someone’s home for some time.
Dani Girl, an original, regional premiere musical, produced by Greyman Theatre Company, is part of the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, with a final performance this Thursday, March 10. I announce this early in my review because I want the seats to be filled in WaterTower Theatre’s Main Stage that night.
This highly imaginative, funny (yes), heart-aching and “life and love affirming” story of a young girl’s battle with cancer is so powerful in its message and in its depiction. Simple, yet gorgeous music and lyrics by Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond are of the caliber that singers would want to cover on their next album. The book by Dimond takes you straight to the heart, mind and imagination of a 9-year-old girl (and boy) without playing down or patronizing. You find yourself back in that age and giggling to the words because you remember just how they are thinking and feeling.
Dani is back in the hospital – her leukemia has returned after three years’ remission – and the diagnosis is not promising. Her mom is stressed and angry which makes Dani doubtful and anxious but she continues that child-like belief in things unseen. She does, however, see her guardian angel who has also returned after three years. This particular GA isn’t very reassuring and caring or even reliable and spends more time playing in Dani’s imagination games. A quiet and reclusive roommate arrives but Dani soon has him join forces with her on a grandiose adventure to find out “why cancer?” and to defeat it.
The performances of the two young adults portraying children are as powerful as the words – they simply become Dani and Marty. Rachel Brown, as Dani, tweaks her voice slightly, and in some of the songs, to signify youth. But, when her adult soprano voice takes over, the richness and heart in it soars through the large theatre space. Brown’s face and body exude kid-like joy and determination.
Joshua Gonzales also encompasses child spirit. His Marty is all boys boy, showing his devotion to Star Trek and superheroes by doing imaginary battles on the bed and flying with his blanket as a cape. His reactions on having to play or hold hands with a girl are so perfect and my favorite line of his is when he calls Jesus “that sandals guy”. Stepping in as Mother, Emily Christine Smith, though the same approximate age as Ms. Brown, physically matures on stage and becomes the single parent, fearful for her child, and lying in bed holding her sick child. Smith also has a rich vocal quality to soothe Dani and make the audience ache for her pain and fear.
A tour de force role, Matt Tolbert plays guardian angel Raph and others with astounding dexterity and invention. Each character is so completely developed that he actually begins to look different physically and facially. Very agile, with a ballet dancer’s physique, Tolbert leaps behind the bed as cheesy game show host, bumbles around as Raph or preens and prances as Cancer. The two nurses, played by Kelly Nickell and Stephanie Meliotes, have no lines but are in integral part, denoting that hospital atmosphere and moving set pieces to keep up with this fast-paced musical just as swiftly as Dani’s brain.
Director Kelsey Ervi worked his actors hard but obviously allowed them to play and improvise, resulting in a piece full of uplifting joy and precision acting. The set, designed by Ervi, is so simple – two rolling beds complete with side rail, two rolling lounge chairs, two small cubbyhole shelves and three rolling screened partitions. Each scene, dream or game develops from maneuvering them around and pretending they are something else – just as children do.
You might cry at the end of Dani Girl but still walk out of the theatre with a joyful heart. Dani and Marty, and this wonderful production by Greyman Theatre Company, will do that for you. When you go to this musical, open your mind and your heart and, kinda like Never Never Land, you’re there.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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