Do you love theme parks and can’t wait for the season to start again? Short of going to Disney World (or some other warm place), you’re just going to have to wait. Or, you could go see Available Light Theatre’s new show, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. This extremely fast paced play gave me the adrenaline rush that I thought only something like a roller coaster ride can provide.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is Matt Slaybaugh’s adaptation of Cory Doctorow’s novel of the same title. The book was written in 2003 and imagines a future where death has been eliminated, the social capital “whuffie” has taken the place of money, and the concept of personal experiences has advanced to the point where you don’t have to have something actually ‘happen’ to you in order to have a memory of it.
Drew Eberly plays Julius, a man who has lived around 200 years, thanks to new advancements with cloning and mind backups made during the Bitchun utopia. Some humans were adverse to the idea at first, but as Julius says, you just had to outlive them.
His world is centered on Disney World, supposedly the happiest of places. Disney World is an odd backdrop, where attractions are frequently going down for rehab and enhancement. Some of the people want to keep things just how they are for the sake of nostalgia and historic preservation, while others welcome virtual enhancements that completely change the attraction’s experience.
Julius is murdered and when he is refreshed from a backup, he discovers that a rival group, led by Debra (Michelle Schroeder) has taken over the Hall of Presidents and replaced the animatronics with synthetic memories. He immediately suspects that Debra and her group are responsible for his murder, and assumes that they are plotting to rehab his favorite ride, the Haunted Mansion, next. Schroeder is great as a cold-hearted villainess. Her voice, actions, and outfit excellently convey Debra’s calculated take-over of the park.
Julius is strongly against some of the virtual enhancements, wanting the Haunted Mansion, to be updated with a human touch and on his terms. He holds on to special memories of that attraction, not necessarily because it was an awesome ride, but because it’s where he met his girlfriend, Lil (Acacia Leigh Duncan).
The struggle between the groups brings up questions about how you remember something — do you visit a place like Disney World with your children because you loved the rides? Or do you want to take them there because of how the rides made you feel and you want your kids to have that same experience? As you age, it’s often the feelings you associate with an object or place that remain in your memory, not the intricate details of the place itself. Visiting Niagara Falls became more than just a place of awe-inspiring beauty for me when my boyfriend proposed. It became a huge outpouring of love. In my memories, I’ve attached those feelings to that place. Would I like to go back some day? Sure. Will I be disappointed when it no longer physically looks like how it is in my mind? Probably.
The book seems to have been ahead of its time, and a bit prophetic with the concept of whuffie. Whuffie has replaced the concept of money and you need high whuffie to be successful and acquire things. Everyone is online and able to constantly rate how much respect and like they have for others, much like gathering friends and ‘likes’ on Facebook or rating how much influence you have on Klout.
Some seem to take the concept to the extreme and it instead makes them depressed. Julius gets so low on whuffie that he almost dies. His best friend Dan (Ian Short) also hits a whuffie low and contemplates suicide. It’s a strong reminder that even though things like Facebook can be fun and make you feel close to people, they are not a substitute for actual interactions with people.
The pace of the play throws lots of heavy themes out to the audience without necessarily explaining them right away. It doesn’t really need to – for me, it was the discussion that happened once the play was over that made the experience well worth it.
The videos shown throughout the play are well done and add another element to what is a pretty simple set. The dance number by Julius’ revamped ghoulish animatronics in the Haunted Mansion was fun and felt like a nod to Evil Dead the Musical’s “Do The Necronomicon.”
Go see the play with friends and give yourselves something to discuss for hours!
Available Light Theatre’s remaining performances of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom are April 27 and 28, May 3-5, 10-12 at 8pm and April 29 and May 6 at 2pm. It runs 120 minutes with one 10 minute intermission. Talkbacks will be held immediately following all Thursday and Friday performances. Vern Riffe Center, Studio Two Theatre, 77 S. High St., 4th Floor, Columbus.
All of Available Light Theatre’s shows are Pay What You Want at the door, with a suggested price of $20. Tickets can be reserved on their website, avltheatre.com. Memberships for the 2012-2013 season are on sale now.