Once again, Director Tiffany Keane Schaefer, together with her co-adapter Nick Izzo, has managed to put science fiction on a stage. Many think it can’t be done, but with the right visual storytelling, staging, and costumes, viewers can be instantly transported to another world, just like our hero John Carter.
In the adaption of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, a Confederate deserter named John Carter (Elliott Sowards) finds himself transported to Mars, where a war is brewing between the planet’s alien races. He finds himself smack dab in the middle of everything. As an honorable man, John Carter cannot sit idly by while injustice is done to those he grows closest to. He throws himself into fight after fight, and must choose between saving an entire planet or going home.
From the intricately detailed costumes — the alien masks, especially! — to the lighting and projection screen that changed depending on the scene, I had no trouble believing we were on Mars. The most delightfully surprising thing about the show was how much humor there was. I laughed out loud several times, either from the silly lines during battle scenes or hilarious one-liners from Tal Haljus (Bennett Bottero) or John, delivering his lines in a southern drawl, which was such a contrast to all the other characters. Speaking of battle scenes, the choreography for Otherworld’s fights are always so fun to watch.
And while John Carter may be the hero of the tale, there was no shortage of strong ladies. We first meet Sola (Julia Rigby) when she’s crying over the loss of her hatchling, but she and John develop such a strong bond, and her character grows tremendously just over the course of the show. At first glance, Dejah Thoris (Mary-Kate Arnold), the princess of Mars, appears to be just another damsel in distress, but quickly proves she is far from needing saving. Additionally, her costume towards the end of the show looks a lot like Jasmine when she’s about to marry Jafar in Aladdin– and she looks amazing is in it!
Lastly, we cannot forget the antagonists that are trying to thwart our heroes at every turn. Sarkoja (Elizabeth MacDougald) was vicious but protective of her people, not willing to let the interlopers take anything away from her. Also, she had the coolest weapons on her belt. And Sab Thaan (Michael Jay Bullaro) was extremely fun to watch. He delivered his villainous lines with amazing comedic timing — and he had some pretty sweet light-up sleeves.
I don’t want to say anymore because you should all just go enjoy this experience for yourself. Head on over to Barsoom (or, you know, Berger Park) ASAP! And if this doesn’t convince you, take it from Director Tiffany Kean Schaefer: “Barsoom truly came to life. It is my privilege and honor to work with such a fine cast, dedicated ensemble, amazing production team – to bring you the tale of how John Carter of Virginia met and fell in love with an alien Princess of Mars.”
A Princess of Mars runs September 9 to 24 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at Berger Park in Chicago.
Get your tickets quickly because the show has been selling out!
*Photos by Grace Gimpel