Regional Reviews: Boston
This latest production from Apollinaire Theatre Company has all the elements of a good story: sharp characters; natural dialogue; a bit of mystery and suspense; even a time machine, which serves as the flashpoint for the main drama. "Time: 2010," the program states, but (aside from the flip phones, perhaps) this story could be happening now. It's one about complicated family dynamics, class struggle, and the monstrous cycle of crime and poverty, offering a glimpse into why even those who want out might not be able to get out.
Despite the play's title, the lives of our protagonists are pretty bleak. Luke (Sam Terry) is a nineteen-year-old genius who built the time machine in his living room but refuses to use it for fear of cosmic consequences. He lives in a Northern England town so desolate, his older brother Rob (Michael Underhill) freely walks a grown man around on a dog leash (Dev Luthra) and nobody seems to mind. Luke's misguided friend Greg (Geoff Van Wyck) seems willing to do almost anything to gain some upward mobility. When Rob's shady "business" associate Ben (Brooks Reeves) expresses interest in Luke's time machine, everything starts to unravel.
As usual, the performances are impeccable. Although Rob is a bit of a ruffian, his love for his brother comes across clearly, and Underhill (School for Scandal, Sense and Sensibility, Back the Night) has found the perfect balance among the competing forces of anger, resentment, earnestness, and loyalty to make you empathize with Rob. Recent Emerson grad Terry (The Birds and the Bees, Lizzie Stranton, Midnight Zoo) shows us Luke's weaknesses and strengths, sometimes in the same moment: He's nervous and uncomfortable, constantly adjusting his clothes, but he bravely stands up to nefarious Ben and refuses to compromise his morals (giving his time machine to Ben in exchange for a house and a lot of money, for example). And Ben is not someone you could easily stand up toBen is downright terrifying, as IRNE Award-winner Reeves (Hamlet, Midsummer, Stupid Fucking Bird) employs a stoic intimidation reminiscent of "Breaking Bad"'s Mike Ehrmantraut. (Only, unlike Mike, Ben is plain evil.)
The sci-fi elements are present but not overpowering. The brilliant thing about the time machine is that there's not much to it, as twenty-nine-year-old British playwright Alistair McDowall has the wisdom not to fuss with the nuanced details. How exactly does it work? Is it bigger on the inside? You never find out, but you don't need to. The characters believe it worksyou can see that clearly on their facesso you believe it, too. Somehow, this simple cardboard structure propped against the wall feels powerful but not unnatural in the world of the play. Even so, it's the shifting tensions among the characters, and the actors' skilled portrayals of them, that makes the show truly magical.
Brilliant Adventures runs through January 21, 2017, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Performances are held at Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea, MA. Tickets are $25 at the door, $20 in advance, and $15 for students. Tickets may be purchased online at www.apollinairetheatre.com or by calling 617-887-2336.