Arts & CultureCampus & City

Play Review: Rough Magic

Studio Theatre’s final main stage production brought great performances, despite a lacking story.

Rough Magic, University of Alberta Studio Theatre’s final play of the 2023-24 season, opened this past week. Filled with admirable performances, an impressive set, and impeccable sound design, the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program displayed many of its strong suits throughout the production. The only issue? The script. 

Rough Magic follows the adventures of a quirky dramaturg named Melanie (Jordan Empson). Melanie possesses the power to release fictional characters from the pages of plays. When the son (Alexander Mahon) of the evil wizard Prospero (Maxwell Vesely) warns her that his father is threatening to destroy New York, she must team up with him and an earnest lifeguard (Mark Guerrero) in order to save the day. 

The cast as a whole did a great job of working with what they had. Although they were gifted nothing but clunky dialogue and an extremely underdeveloped main character, all of the actors gave their all and delivered commendable performances. Guerrero, in particular, did a great job of heightening the character of a teenage lifeguard, using the mediocre dialogue to his advantage and managing to produce many laughs from the audience. The lifeguard was the only character with half-decent development, and Guerrero clamped onto it and ran. His exaggerated portrayal of an awkward teenage boy was one of the stand-out comedic performances of the night. 

I can’t talk about stellar comedic performances and not mention Ekeajia Vieira as Tisiphone. The unexpected appearance of bubbly drag queens re-engaged the audience as the non-existent plot chugged on. This surprise choice brought life back to the story, even if the reasoning for their appearance was weak. Vieira’s portrayal of one of the three Greek furies brought sass, sparkle, and sensation to the stage. The production’s best decision was including a drag side-kick. And, casting Vieira to do it was a stellar choice. 

Despite these notable performances, Rough Magic turned out to be a little rougher than it was magical. Not even a drag rendition of an ancient Greek goddess could save the flailing script. In an attempt to adapt the action genre to the stage, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa proves that theatre and adrenaline-filled stories do not go hand-in-hand for a reason. He took the worst elements of action movies — the corny dialogue and the half-baked main character — and attempted to implement them into the theatre. The results were questionable. 

The theatrical elements manage to stand up alright, as many of the Shakespearean and similar references would bring joy to the knowledgeable theatre-goer. But, the desperate attempt to relate to an action-loving audience over-shadows any charming theatre reference. To be frank, the plot is confusing and at times redundant. Additionally, the main character is extremely under-developed, and the dialogue is reminiscent of a cringe-worthy Marvel movie. Not to mention the ending hints at a sequel? Does Aguirre-Sacasa realise plays do not usually tend to become franchised? 

Even if I could look past all of these clunky and awkward elements of the story, I cannot look past the inclusion of an implied romance between an adult woman and a 17-year-old boy. Why was it necessary for Melanie to have a romantic interest? And if she had to, why did it have to be with the teenage boy who is continuously referred to as the “child warrior?” I was left feeling gross and completely distracted from the rest of the story. Leave the teenage boy alone!

Despite the painful script, the production did manage to distract the audience slightly with wonderful tech elements. The costumes were beautiful and encapsulated each character’s personality. The set design was original, simple, and versatile, proving that more is not always better. The sound design especially stood out. The sound was the only part of the show where the attempt to emulate an adventure movie actually paid off. Crashing thunder and loud bangs rolled across the audience, heightening tension and fear, pushing the story forward. Although at times they were slightly too loud, the effects truly immersed the audience into the world of the play. This production proved that good tech can make any terrible script a little better. 

Despite being given basically nothing to work with, the cast and crew persevered and pulled off a decent production. The cast managed to take the stale dialogue and make it interesting. Impressively, they used their charm and charisma to bring to life characters with little to no development. The production design managed to create fabulous visuals and soundscapes, and truly brought the story to life. My only advice to the BFA program? Find a better script next time.

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