A BILLION NIGHTS ON EARTH (Thaddeus Phillips + Steven Dufala): 2017 Fringe review

Billion Nights_picHow do you capture A BILLION NIGHTS ON EARTH in a 90 minute play while appealing to an audience aged 3-99?  Thaddeus Phillips and Steven Dufala answer this question by eliminating the interference of narration and dialogue. In their fantastical journey – A BILLION NIGHTS ON EARTH – time moves quickly through the power of suggestion using large-scale puppetry and an omnipotent soundscape to activate the audience’s imagination, while effectively suspending their sense of reality. This 80% non-verbal play is reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia in its ability to draw the viewer in through nontraditional, sensory mediums.  Here set design and stage hands function as ever-changing characters. Drawing inspiration from Japanese Kabuki theater and Astrid Lindgren’s World Park in Sweden, Thaddeus Phillips describes, “this roof is a magic box that slides and reveals interior and exterior spaces.”  Thanks to a lustrous partnership with Steven Dufala – an installation artist, sculptor and painter – whose construction must have been glued together with fairy dust, the world created on stage transforms before us with a magic realism that is awe-inspiring.

The real-life father and son acting duo (Michael and Winslow Fegley) share a special chemistry on stage in their matching pinstriped PJs as they quest to find Winslow’s missing sleeping companion, a stuffed-animal whale.  Reluctantly, father ventures in after his fearless son who finds a mysterious portal in the family refrigerator while getting a glass of milk. A cat and mouse like chase ensues through many shifting landscapes – an ice tundra, the great wild ocean, and even space. At times, there are plot lulls and attention span shifts, but it’s never too long until something or someone appears drawing interest back in. The climax of the play is not in finding the whale, which happens to be under Winslow’s pillow the whole time, but in the robotic dance off between father and son outside a subway station. The payoff is the moment of connection shared between them, where father is willingly exploring and enjoying the world of his son, who happens to have a fantastical imagination.   

[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] September 14-17, 2017; fringearts.com/event/a-billion-nights-on-earth/

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