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Arts and Entertainment

Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere' a Big-Canvas Fantasy With Charm at Sacred Fools

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Over the years I've come to respect Sacred Fools Theater Company as one of the most adventurous theatre groups in town. Its history is full of big shows that seem too ambitious for the space and financial means, but time and again the company triumphs, from shows such as The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Gorey Stories in the past to Watson and Stoneface in the present. They've done it again with Neverwhere, a big-canvas fantasy that, while rough around the edges, still preserves the charm and magic of Neil Gaiman's novel.

Princess Door (Paula Rhodes) is on the run from the assassins Mr. Croup (Ezra Buzzington) and Mr. Vandemar (Bryan Krasner), men who've just murdered her family. She is helped by bored office drone Richard Mayhew (understudy Bryan Bellomo), who is quickly drawn in to her unusual life in the hidden world below the streets of London. Door is looking to get to the angel Islington (Carlos Larkin), who supposedly knows who had her family killed. To this end she acquires the help of bodyguard Hunter (Devereau Chumrau) and the well informed Marquis de Carabas (Jonathan Kells Phillips). In the midst of all these heroic characters, Richard is surprised to find he's much more brave than he ever imagined.

Bellomo brings energy and humor to what could be a fairly bland role, and Rhodes finds a good blend of charm and concern as the embattled Door. Buzzington is amusing if not quite threatening enough as Croup, but Krasner makes up for it with an appropriately big and hilarious performance as Vandemar (a man whose answer to "What does anyone want?" is "Dead things. More teeth."). Chumrau seems like a warrior archetype brought to kick-ass life as Hunter; she's fantastic in both meanings of the word.

Phillips, looking like John Barrowman and sounding like Richard E. Grant, is equally great as the sarcastic Marquis in an enigmatic gem of a performance. Larkin brings a wonderful intensity to Islington and a gleeful psychosis to the Lord Rat-Speaker, but also convinces as fellow office worker Gary in an impressive demonstration of acting range. Finally, Marz Richards is admirably dour as the Abbot and my only complaint with Cassandra Vincent's ice cool Lamia was that she was so good I wish she'd had more time in the show.

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Director Scott Leggett stages the play creatively, using projections and video to create whatever locations he needs, and his pacing is swift (the three hour running time flies by). Robert Kauzlaric's adaptation does a professional job of taking something that might be better served by having the bigger budget of a film and making it work for the stage, retaining the best bits of Gaiman's novel. Martin Morse's costume design is the production MVP, with excellent work all around, from the Marquis' distressed leather duster to Hunter's battle attire. Michael James Schneider's set serves the play, but its sewn-together look is odd and a bit off-putting.

"Neverwhere" plays at Sacred Fools Theater through May 11. Tickets are available online.

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