Published on April 8th, 2013 | by Greg0
How I Learned To Become A Superhero, Showing Now Off-Broadway
Take comic books, filtered through the lives of real people who decide to become superheroes. Distill those stories into a documentary, which in turn inspires a play. This is fertile ground, with lots of fresh areas to explore in a modern theatrical drama. Balancing dark and gritty themes of loss with the naive and immature impulse to be a hero, there are some deep thoughts and solid scenes in the new Off-Broadway show How I Learned To Become A Superhero.
There aren’t any superpowers here though. Less Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark than three independent one-act character studies intermingled, it recently premiered at The Gloria Maddox Theater during it’s exclusive month-long run. The basic plot certainly has promise- the play “follows the stories of three people who have taken action against the losses they have suffered in their lives by turning themselves into real life “Superheroes”. Whether the Manhattan transplant “Safety Pilot” and his sidekick, the Seattle native “Hope”, or the Baltimore renegade “Guardian Angel”, the heroes have to face the consequences of playing make believe in a world that is all too real, where consequences of the past are always present, and the future uncertain.”
An incredible cast goes a long way to earning our recommendation. Christopher Sears nails every beat as Safety Pilot, a difficult role to say the least. Each of the superheros is dealing with some deep trauma (Gwynneth Bensen as Guardian Angel and Sean Logan as Hope), and each breakdown is handled well, but Safety Pilot’s is the most explored. Several other actors and actresses play multiple characters, including a pair of actors who stole each scene they were in. Curran Connor is Safety Pilot’s punching bag come to life and sidekick, and additionally plays a father who feels worried about and worryingly drawn to Hope. Robert Manning, Jr.’s fairly small pair of roles had us looking him up on IMDB and looking forward to his future work.
Music by Tim Giles served the mood well, with an ambitious soundtrack that sounds top-notch and high-budget. And the direction by Christopher Klinger serves the material well- it’s tight, well-staged, and neatly choreographed with some decent effects that aren’t overused and add to the production. There isn’t a lot of action or fight sequences, but they are parceled out nicely.
We had some serious troubles though, mostly stemming from a script that tries to do too much. We’re not given space or time to care about the alter-egos- they aren’t people and never quite feel real for the most part. The various parts never combine or connect to one another, leaving you to follow three disparate tracks when one larger narrative would have felt more fulfilling. “Hope” and “Guardian Angel” aren’t even really shown as heroes, just confused and lonely. And even though the play drives home that even the smallest good deed can be meaningful, it also offers a contradictory side in the same scenes- even good intentions can lead to terrible ends. Without anyone to root for, the audience struggles with emotions that resonate but aren’t resolved, and thus left unsatisfied. There’s so much material as inspiration, to choose these specific plots is ultimately confusing. Some scenes could serve to be cut as well- the Lone Ranger back story is handled oddly and left a few members of the audience looking at one another with raised eyebrows.
But there is plenty to love about How I Learned To Become A Superhero, and the performances are more memorable than many an expensive Broadway play. You’ll be drawn in, and argue with friends, and feel for the characters. Tickets are $25 for performances on Wednesday through Saturday nights at 8 PM, with Sunday matinees at 3 PM, and all shows occur at 151 W. 26th Street (7th floor).