Professor von Awesome's Ghost Hunting Safari
by Jo Ann Rosen · October 5, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #5: Jo Ann Rosen looks at Professor von Awesome’s Ghost Hunting Safari presented by The Serious Theatre Collective It is October, and no one is more aware of this than the members of The Serious Theatre Collective, who have spent the year co-writing their annual musical. This year it is Professor von Awesome’s Ghost Hunting Safari, a tongue-in-cheek seasonal amusement at The Parkside Lounge, directed with precision by Lizz Lieser. The result is an energetic fun-fest where cast members demonstrate their many talents on one of the tiniest stages known to mankind. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the live three-piece combo at the side of the stage where the musicians mete out their melodies in the form of ballad, waltz, and rock n roll.
As the play begins, Professor von Awesome, who is filled with a devilish spirit, embarks on a journey to find The Book of the Dead, a book which will explain how to make one – and only one – person immortal. Joined by his wan manservant, Boobury, and an opportunistic love-interest, Celeste, he finds a multitude of adventures. He runs into his brother, Percival, whom he’s never liked, a fortunate-teller named Sveta, his domineering mother, and Ronaldo, a man whose wonderful strangeness suggests Kramer, the TV character on Seinfeld. He also meets Death, with whom he ultimately strikes a bargain.
The play is framed in ten chapters, and the story is an excuse to showcase what the cast is capable of. All seven cast members demonstrate a myriad of skills, with Kirsten Rani Almeida, doubling as Sveta and von Awesome’s mother, taking the gold in vocals. Mike Drummey, as Professor von Awesome, is … well, awesome in his command of the stage and his energy level. He dominates the tiny stage with his blustery demeanor, and manipulates his fellow characters – as he should – in his pursuit of The Book of the Dead. Jacob Callie Moore as Boobury is the perfect yokemate. Next to the hearty-looking Drummey, Moore is pale, meek, obsequious. Visually, this is hilarious. Annalisa Derr plays the buxom Celeste dressed throughout in a wedding dress. She shows range as she alternates between wholesome, evil, and tarty. Britton Saffer takes on the role of brother Percival, and shows what second fiddle feels like. Half way through the production he belts out the rock n roll song, “I Cried”, revealing new strength in his character. Laura Aristovulos plays Death. Her articulate closing dance shows grace and agility.
This musical is chock full of entertainment. Midway through, puppets sub for the Professor and Boobury on their journey. The puppets, by Ursula and Norm Stuby, are fine cut-outs on sticks, quite beautiful to behold. The puppets walk behind a small Torah-like scroll as the settings and challenges change. Ursula and Norm are also responsible for the clever props, such as the slide show of the characters’ innards, and the excellent mask worn by Death. Annalisa Derr’s colorful costumes add to the holiday atmosphere and the humor of Professor von Awesome… Particularly noteworthy are the shmatah on Sveta, the bridal gown, and the long fingers on the hands of Death. Music, composed by Ari Kessler (on piano) and Nick Sula is easy to listen to. Andrew Hollis plays guitar and viola, and Will Kitchin is on drums. Lyrics, written by Lizz and Ari, are clever. There is a lot going on in this production. The smart choreography of Valerie Ryan Miller and Kacie Laforest allow the cast to dance, sing and tussle with professional suavity – almost as if there is room to spare.
Professor von Awesome plays on weekends through October. It’s pure entertainment.
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A quick inventory of the stage, designed to kitschy perfection by Meganne George, tells the audience all we need to know about the family that lives there. Portraits of the Pope and John F. Kennedy both have a place of honor, handmade Easter decorations are proudly displayed, family portraits abound, the fully stocked bar is within easy reach, a well-worn piano flanks the front door and the patriarch snoozes soundly in an overstuffed arm chair.