From Chicago Theatre Review
The Past, Present and Future Merge
March 18, 2019
By Colin Douglas
Joe, Fred and Sam are three kids who find they suddenly have the power to travel through time and space to the past, present and even the future. The magical talisman that enables them to accomplish this feat is a birthday gift, given to Joe by his magician uncle, simply called “The Book.” The adventures these three friends enjoy together also provides the added benefit of teaching facts about each era and locale to which they travel. They’re able to learn firsthand from all kinds of famous men and women from history, people who inspire their daily lives.
This new stage adaptation is by Lifeline Theatre ensemble member, Frances Limoncelli. A Jeff Award-winning playwright, she based this world premiere upon the popular series by prolific children’s writer, Jon Scieszka. With illustrations by Lane Smith, Scieszka is the author of hundreds of other award-winning picture books and chapter fiction, such as The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, The Frog Prince and Math Curse, among so many others.
In his Time Warp Trio series, the author once again writes for the reluctant male reader. The books are short, filled with cartoon-like illustrations, and the protagonists are three second grade boys. However, in Ms. Limoncelli’s play, she’s wisely turned Fred into Frederica, nicknamed by the other two boys. With over a dozen titles available, the playwright chose to use episodes from Scieszka’s Knights of the Kitchen Table, Your Mother Was a Neanderthal and the futuristic, 2095 for her adaptation. If the young theatergoer is motivated to relive this story at home, Jon Scieszka’s Time Warp Trio book is conveniently available for purchase in the theatre lobby.
Angela McIlvain has designed a simple, colorful and flexible set that allows Diane Fairchild’s special effects lighting and Joe Griffin’s magical sound effects to produce the illusion of time travel. Puppet designer Mark Blashford has created some imaginative, eye-popping creatures, particularly a flying, flame-breathing dragon; and the many quick-change costumes, designed and built by Brenda Winstead, complete the spellbinding visual effect of the production.
The kids in this play are portrayed by a trio of dynamic, talented young actors. Making his Lifeline debut, Delvin James is a bundle of energy overflowing with charisma, as Joe. His character’s positive self-image and strong resolve contrasts with the young man’s forgetfulness and inability to hang onto the magical Book. He’s a continually engaging actor who humorously accepts the challenges his character faces.
As Fred, Darian Tene returns to the Lifeline stage, after her memorable performance as Dew Drop in “You Think It’s Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?” Here she plays a spunky little girl who’s every inch the equal of her male buddies. She makes a great role model for the little girls in the audience, never playing Fred as a helpless victim, but a go-getter. Ms. Tene has proven, over and over, to be a competent young actress whose appearance in any production promises a powerful performance.
And Brian Tochterman Jr., another veteran of several Lifeline Theatre family productions, is again sensational, this time as the bold and brainy Sam. Remembered for his hilarious performance in “You Think It’s Easy Being the Tooth Fairy,” Brian plays an impressively intelligent student of science and math, making him another role model for young audience members.
Although the program calls Jennifer Betancourt and Drew Johnson simply the “ensemble,” these two actors are the unsung heroes of this production. They are the hardest-working members of the company, morphing into a multitude of characters, often within seconds. The speed with which they exit, change costumes and wigs, and re-enter again as a new personage is astounding. Both actors become every ally, villain and creature that the children encounter. Ms. Betancourt’s portrayal of a feisty Queen Guinevere, completely decked out in armor, makes the Round Table a female-centric governing body; and Mr. Johnson makes a very funny, if repulsively flatulent, caveman.
Frances Limoncelli’s latest adaption is entertaining, but it lacks some of the sparkle and cohesiveness of her previous children’s plays and musicals. The opening afternoon audience of little ones particularly enjoyed the broad, slapstick performances, as well as the charismatic characters created by this talented cast. Some of the rationale of the kids’ futuristic time travel episode is a bit difficult to follow, but eventually the theatergoer learns to just go with the flow. The topnotch performances, directed by veteran director Heather Currie, are spirited and filled with fun. The greatest compliment for this production is that it’s true to the spirit of Jon Scieszka’s wonky writing, while inventively providing the wit and whimsy of his time travel sci-fi fantasies.
From ChiIL Mama
April 20, 2019
By Kimberly Robb Baker
This is my second time attending a KidSeries show at Lifeline, and so far they really can’t be beat in terms of creating enriching entertainment that is relevant for my three kids, from toddler to tween.
It was a pleasure to experience the company’s take on The Time Warp Trio, a series of books by Jon Scieszka, artfully adapted for Lifeline by ensemble member heather Currie.
The story begins when Joe gets a book for his birthday from his namesake uncle, a mysterious magician. The book is just as mysterious as the giver, for Joe and his two friends Sam and Freddie (yay for adding some gender diversity where the original story had three boys) find that the book transports them to three very different eras in time.
As if birthday parties weren’t enchanting enough for the young audience, they get to spend some time in King Arthur’s court, with pre-historic humans and woolly mammoths, and a hundred years into the future where the very intimidating robots have a surprising purpose.
My 10-year-old’s favorite part was the prehistoric era—perhaps because the plot centered around a very lax hygiene routine?
We all loved the puppets and costumes throughout—especially a very convincing giant (the farting sound effects were a big plus here), an absolutely gorgeous dragon puppet, and some smaller puppets in the future scene that gave us the “pulled back” view we could otherwise only have in a movie theatre.
The trio, played with full enthusiasm by Delvin James, Brian Tochterman Jr., and Darian Tene, were smart and proactive. There were fun riddles, audience interactions, and plenty of learning opportunities (Did dinosaurs and humans exist at the same time? What is a fulcrum? How can you convince Merlin you’re a great magician?)
My 8-year-old daughter loved the ending best of all. Let’s just say there’s more to mom than meets the eye. Oh, and the book was available for sale in the lobby. The kids were already reading aloud to each other in the car, so score one for the book lovers’ team.