|Alejandro Rueda, Arielle Leiser, Danielle Register, Rachel Sage, Jeremy Neiss, and Jazlee Fenn|
photo by by Taylor McMurray
Having its world premiere at Paradise Valley Community College, Oz: The Land That Time Forgot draws inspiration from L. Frank Baum with flair, but the production as a whole leaves something to be desired. Oz presents an intriguing story, influenced by both the well-known stories of Oz and current events, with a few standout performances and creative elements. It has promise, but ultimately Oz is likely more entertaining for young audiences than others.
Oz: The Land That Time Forgot begins with student Clea and her classmates, reeling from a new principal who shows complete disregard for the student council and begins imposing ridiculous rules. When a tornado strikes, Clea and the school mascot Ferret-O find themselves in a strange new world overtaken by a new leader called Demented Dodo.
Written by Anne Negri and Dr. Craig Kosnik, who both specialize in drama for younger audiences, have produced an interesting iteration of the land of Oz that has many playful elements appealing to younger audience members, like the childlike Ferret-O and Scraps, but the heavy-handed parallels to current events prove distracting to an adult perspective. The Demented Dodo, a fowl new leader obsessed with his thinning feathers, building a wall around Oz, and banning any dissenting voices, and his curmudgeonly underling (who ends up threatening the literal daughter of the rainbow) are opposed by a war-hungry female general of an all-girl army... I'll leave it at that. The constant use of "strong women in charge" as a negative descriptor is confusing, since the whole story revolves around a young woman learning to be a leader. From the story alone, it would seem only meek women thrust into power are deserving of it. Overall, however, the story is a well-woven narrative with many colorful elements.
Arielle Leiser's Clea is earnest and relatable, her character growth is a joy to watch as Leiser showcases her budding self confidence throughout the play. Ric Alpers plays a convincing Principal Crow/Demented Dodo, though it is a shame his Dodo costume didn't allow for the audience to see much of his expressions. Jeremy Neiss shines most brightly as Ruggedo, when he's able to show off his expressive movement and vocals, but does well with the character of Reggie as well. Jazlee Fenn is splendid as Maria/Mombi. Her characterizations are natural, regal and poised, and she draws the eye every time she takes the stage. Rachel Sage is wild and wily as Scarlet/Scraps, and throws every inch of herself into each character with abandon. Rylee Hoil, Jenny/General Jinjur, is a magnetic force on stage, volatile and near boiling over at any given moment. She's compelling, determined and fierce. I almost found myself wishing Jenny and Jinjur were the protagonists thanks to her portrayal. Connor Fleming brings a vivid energy to Wally/Professor. He is bright and articulate, charming and lovable with animated physicality that makes him a perfect fit for a play aimed at younger audiences. Jason Jones is animated as mascot Ferret-O, and while Kareem Soldana isn't on stage terribly often, he is dynamic and engaging as the Guard of Citrine City.
Directed by one of the playwrights, Dr. Craig Kosnik, the production has a few highs and lows. The pacing is a bit uneven, certain scenes go on a bit too long for even an adult attention span, but his direction does make use of his actors' physicality and ability well. He uses Scraps and Ferret-O as a child's window into the story, each dancing and flopping around in ways children are often wont to do, and each as the characters that see the truth behind deceptions even when the older characters don't, which is a strength both of the play itself and the direction.
Costume designs by Jessica Florez and Emily Wood truly bring the show to life, and are easily the standout creative element of Oz. They tie in the colorful characters of Oz with their classroom counterparts in delightful flair, vibrant and bold. Hair and makeup designs by Haley Larsen are effective and complementary to the costumes. Erik H. Reid tackles both scenic and lighting design, the latter of which is clear and simple, altogether effective. Reid's scenic design has some good elements, but a lack of cohesion. It's strongest when it's solid shades of yellow depicting Citrine City or depicting a classroom, but falters in depictions of Oz in general. Symmetry and asymmetry are both powerful elements when used intentionally, but much of the set falls somewhere between the two, not quite one or the other and it's difficult to tell which was the intention. Andrea Robertson's fight choreography is fast-paced and effective, and Seth Wilbur's sound design complements the play seamlessly. Prop advising and design by Karla Frederick and William M. Deihl II, respectively, also help tie in characters between the classroom and Oz, providing fun elements (like appropriately vibrant yellow chains) along the journey.
Oz: The Land That Time Forgot has its strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately proves to be an entertaining show for young audiences.
CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through June 30th