Are you ready to face the storm?
Steeped in powerful metaphor, The Speakeasy Society’s latest installment of their The Kansas Collection series, The Invitation, continues to play on the productions’ strength in casting and storytelling. This installment also introduced a greater sense of audience agency and honest interaction between participants, the actors, and the environment. We return to the dusty plains of Kansas on the brink of a union between Phoebe Daring and the Scarecrow King, a pairing perhaps born of a twisted love or, for the well-informed, clever manipulation. We recruits are here on a mission, we are here to listen, and we are here to make our most important choice yet.
Unlike The Door, which featured strong performances but lacked participatory content for the audience, The Invitation immediately engages attendees with an always pleasant intro from John Henningsen as Lyman, followed by a welcome recurring performance from the compelling Zan Headley as Private Joe Files, whose expressive eyes say so much more than even the excellent script by Chris Porter provides. Headley demonstrates a constantly evolving character for Files; we can speculate eagerly as to what role he will play in the rest of the narrative, should he survive the coming storm.
This chapter also introduces newcomers to The Kansas Collection: Michael Bates as Jack Pumpkinhead and Nikhil Pai as Tik Tok, two tragically different personalities condemned to the same fate. This is where directors Genevieve Gearhart and Julianne Just use the best of their broad talents; Pai and Bates provide dovetailing narratives from vastly diverging perspectives. The contrast between the two is further exemplified in extremely clever staging as participants fulfill their duties. Pumpkinhead and Tok are both endearing and tragic; old friends who are plagued with guilt and fear, struggling to hang on to their lives and sanity in the shell of their old world.
The Invitation is a return to strength for The Kansas Collection – it manages to set up the dramatic turn that’s coming in the next installment while still standing on its own as a grounded performance. Little things: the face of Joe Files, the warning of Lyman, the thick tension between Tok and Pumpkinhead, even a nice touch involving the titular wedding invitation itself and its connection to the next chapter all mesh together successfully in The Invitation. Speakeasy Society continues to ramp up an impending dread with each turn of a narrative page; you have to know what’s next, no matter the consequence. As Lyman has consistently foretold: the storm has been brewing for some time. Thanks to the quality of Speakeasy Society’s storytelling, when it hits, ready or not, there will be many recruits at its center.
The Kansas Collection: Chapter Four – The Invitation has finished, but all four chapters will be remounted in 2018 in the run up to Chapter Five.