Review: IT IS MAGIC at Catastrophic Theatre. I had no idea how much magic a theater company could make!

“This is peak CATASTROPHIC THEATRE, and the entire production is on FULL TILT BOOGIE from start to finish. … It’s funny, it’s quirky, and it is unlike anything else you are likely to see anytime soon.”
Luis Galindo, Courtney Lomelo, Tamarie Cooper in IT IS MAGIC. (photo by Anthony Rathbun)
Luis Galindo, Courtney Lomelo, Tamarie Cooper in IT IS MAGIC. (photo by Anthony Rathbun)

A central question is behind Mickle Maher’s latest play: “Does the theater have any magic left to give?” And is there something dark about it as well? He’s not concerned with the fun and sparkly magic of a Tinkerbell or a happy visit from Glenda the Good Witch, but rather the kind of black evil morass of magic that destroys souls or dreams and rips the world apart. He mines this idea of miasma coming from the mist in the hellscape that is the basement of the Mortier Civic Playhouse, a community theater that could be in any medium to large-sized town or city. For the audience, the show begins with an actor in a kilt named Tim auditioning for the role of “The Big Bad Wolf” in a world premiere production of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS adapted for adults by a novice playwright/director who also happens to be the Playhouse’s marketing team. By her side is Sandy, her sister, and she is also up for the exact same part. Upstairs, it is opening night for “The Scottish Play” (MACBETH is a title nobody mentions in any theater for fear of bad luck). Somehow, as the night goes on, things get weirder and weirder as the worlds of the onstage show above begin to manifest and influence the auditions below. And soon, nobody doubts the power of magic, and all begin to wonder if they can ever escape it. 

Really, to give anything else away would be a crime. This show takes twists and turns you simply have to experience for yourself, and they keep raising the stakes. This is a play that will have people who have done theater cackling out of control, but even those who have not will be able to relate to what IT IS MAGIC is throwing down. Central to the entire play is the concept of what the word “NO” can mean, especially when it is spoken into the world of artists. It’s about rejection, feeling frustrated, or never quite getting to where you want to be, no matter how many times you try and try. It is the myth of Sisyphus but transported into a community playhouse where the rocks are plays, and the auditioners are stuck, rolling them uphill forever.

CATASTROPHIC THEATRE loves Mickle Maher, and this is his latest work. So it seems with the combination of his words, the idea of a show working black magic on a community theatre, and the send up of the process of a play, they are on solid ground as a company. This is what these kids do on the daily, so it is far from surprising they find the enchanting parts of this script. This is what it looks like when a theater is firing on all cylinders, and not afraid to mine the work for anything and everything it can muster. They make magic.

The cast is sublime, an ensemble that has crack timing and all the right instincts to conjure this spell. Courtney Lomelo struts onto the stage as an “auditioner,” and we can feel her vibes as she radiates Michelle Pfeiffer from WITCHES OF EASTWICK or when she was Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS energy. She’s a force of nature, and I believe every second of her performance, even though it requires her to be far more than anybody expects. Dillon Dewitt plays poor Tim, who is auditioning for the Big Bad Wolf, and he gives off a likeability and a feral quality in turn as needed. His monologues are the stuff dreams are made of, a master class in how to mince or mangle a fairy tale. Luis Galindo is the smarmy artistic director, and he’s both hilarious and capable of delivering high or low, depending on the quirky positions the script puts him in. Whether he is weeping or wretching, he is precise in how he plays the truth in his own absurdity. Amy Bruce is Sandy, and she too finds a way to be deeply authentic at every turn as the put-upon sister who seems to be waiting in the wings for anything to happen. But it is Tamarie Cooper who brings the magic, and that is only because her role requires her to turn on a dime. She is one thing and then another, and it is a brilliant transformation that only alchemists dream of. She is funny, scary, and borderline heartbreaking. She delivers funny lines but also uses her entire body to twist the narrative where it needs to go. This is her world, and we are just renting it for an hour and a half.

Jeff Miller keeps the pacing up and perfectly pitched as director. He knows that faster is funnier, faster is scarier, and insanely fast is what this thing needs to come to life. Luke Fedell turns in some wonderful fight choreography to help hurtle things along. Lee O Barker’s set feels grimy and real and could be the basement of a community theater or the home of Freddy Krueger (take your pick, kids). Andrew Archer plots a wild light scheme that enforces the elements when needed and scatters them as well. Tim Thomson’s sound design is also on point, as are the costumes from Macy Lyne, which create a middle-class desperation so common to suburban theater producers. This is peak CATASTROPHIC THEATRE, and the entire production is on FULL TILT BOOGIE from start to finish.

IT IS MAGIC is far from false advertising because this play, this cast, and this team make some pretty strong magic from Mickle Maher’s latest play. Just sit back, relax, and let it all wash over you is my advice. It’s funny, it’s quirky, and it is unlike anything else you are likely to see anytime soon. CATASTROPHIC THEATRE has always promised to destroy us, and they seem to be inching closer and closer… and closer. This is the next step in their nefarious plan.

IT IS MAGIC runs through March 2nd at the MATCH complex in Midtown. There is some road construction in the area, so plan to arrive a little early to navigate all of that. If you have a small bladder, please plan on going right before the curtain. This show runs over an hour and a half with no intermission. Be wary of free beer Friday of that! It may well be a trap. All tickets are pay what you can.