What do you get when you cross a drive-in movie theater, earth-threatening solar flares, and a popcorn machine who has “recently gained consciousness?” Why, it must be “Journey for the Sun: A Sci-Fi Cartoon Circus,” the winter offering from the Actors Gymnasium.
This wonderfully imaginative production is equal parts avant garde spectacle, circus arts expression, and general silliness. Fortunately, these potentially combustive ingredients are competently mixed by co-directors Frank Maugeri (Community Programs Artistic Director-Chicago Children’s Theatre) and frequent Lookingglass Theatre and Actors Gymnasium performer Lindsey Noel Whiting. Their combined efforts with author Seth Bockley’s work result in a vibrant, bubbling stew of existentialist melodrama, inspired circus choreography, and props and performances so manic and creative they could only exist in the circus.
The story takes place in 1964, when the owner of an Indiana drive-in movie theater is called upon to Save the Galaxy using only human and popcorn power.
Kasey Foster performs admirably in her role as Darryl, a lonely drive-in theater owner in rural Indiana with a passion for the movies and dreams of contacting aliens. Ms. Foster, a singer with several local bands including Babe-alon 5, gets to show off her vocal talents in a silly but infectious song about Darryl, with his Elvis intonations, loving his job but hating the patrons. When a solar flare threatens to destroy the earth, Darryl gets the chance to live his dreams of traveling to outer space.
Rounding out the adult cast are Jean Carlos Claudio and Yuri Lane. Mr. Claudio tackles the physical routines involving pole, acrobatics, clowning, and juggling. Mr. Lane serves as a kind of psychedelic narrator, mixing his impressive beatboxing skills along with a plethora of vocal sound effects and hip-hop beats to add a rhythmic vibe to the staging.
The Teen Ensemble triumphantly takes on most of the circus acts here; swirling and contorting on the lyra, suspending high on the poles, and twisting and spinning on the silks. Circus Choreographer and Actors Gymnasium Artistic Director Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi has the Teens, and even a few Young Performers (pre-teens) gracefully balanced on unicycles and globes (large, rolling balls) when they are not singing, dancing, joking, or flying through the air.
Also deserving credit for their crafty creations are Costume designer Sully Ratke for her eye-popping wardrobes, Hannah Jablonski, Ellie Terrell, and Larry Huetteman for their wonderfully insane props, and Jesse Mooney-Bullock for building a robot puppet so large it requires seven puppeteers (by my count) to control. Lisa Barcy also created an immersive short film using small projectors and requiring the performers to manipulate, downstage, creating a “live” film experience for the audience.
In circus, craft and creativity is just as important as the acrobatics, and the Actors Gymnasium cast and crew prove it here. Seeing “Journey for the Sun” is an ideal way to spend a winter weekend with your loved ones, young or old.
“Journey for the Sun: A Sci-Fi Cartoon Circus” runs through March 25 at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street. For tickets, call 847.328.2795 or