The Amazing Adventures
of Kavalier & Clay
Center Theatre at the Armory (Seattle Center), 216-0833, book-it.org. $25–$43. 6 p.m. Wed.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends July 13.
Whereas Book-It’s epic past productions of T he Cider House Rules spread the feast over two nights (several months apart), delivering Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-winning novel in one five-hour mega-serving makes sense in our age of TV binge-watching. If the audience is going to focus its ADD-ridden brain for longer than a YouTube video (so the logic goes), it might as well gorge on one jumbo-sized wallop. And indeed you should. This production—in which two superhero-obsessed cousins encounter the harsh and exhilarating realities of the real world (1938–’50s) through a comic-book filter—brings emotional KAPOW!s aplenty. Incredibly, after four one-hour acts separated by two intermissions and a dinner break, you could even ask for more.
Not having read Chabon’s 2000 book, I don’t know how the two leads compare to their characters on the page. Yet here we have a dream team of moxie and melancholy from David Goldstein, as Brooklyn-born Sammy Clay, and Frank Boyd, as Czech-born Josef Kavalier. Boyd in particular goes from strong to extraordinary as Josef alters his ambitions to fit wartime and postwar circumstances. Nate Kelderman, who plays Kavalier’s younger brother in the old country (and later his son), perfectly mirrors Kavalier’s wary intelligence. Other memorable performances among the 18-member cast include Opal Peachey as shared romantic interest and activist Rosa Saks and Robert Hinds as the radio actor who voices one of the superheroes.
Directed by Myra Platt from an abridged script by Jeff Schwager, Kavalier & Clay obviously requires some audience endurance. The third act is where the setups start to pay off in spades, so if the early acts seem slow, hang in there. And the show, despite its bulk, can be surprisingly nimble thanks to Christopher Mumaw’s ever-morphing sets. Legions of flats depict towering buildings and bland suburbs, straight from the imaginations of adventure-craving youth. Live musical accompaniment by Micahel Owcharuk and Beth Fleenor helps evoke our heroes’ quick-changing moods. Sometimes we follow them from the map of the known world into pure escapade. In one episode, Peachey doubles as comic-strip heroine Judy Dark, who molts into superhero Luna Moth amid airborne motes like Ben-Day dots. In another, Kavalier bombs through a strobe-storm in Antarctica on a gruesome mission.
The clockwork precision of this complicated adaptation seems a feat of magic in itself. It’s like a trick Kavalier might have tucked up his sleeve to dazzle a captor long enough to escape with his life.