Kevin Isola is Gryphon in The World Over(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Kevin Isola is Gryphon in The World Over
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Perched on a catwalk, muscles bulging, the Gryphon of Dvolnek spreads its wings. Well, okay: The wings are actually attached to a pole that's placed just behind actor Kevin Isola in the Gryphon costume, but it's a striking effect nonetheless. In fact, the pure inventiveness of staging, costume, and lighting elements in The World Over by Keith Bunin lift the production to a higher level than the script itself reaches.

The play is a theatrical fable revolving around Adam (Justin Kirk), an orphan who believes himself to be the lost prince of Gildoray. Armed with nothing but a mysterious ring that surely proves his birthright and the brazen arrogance of absolute conviction, he sets out on a quest to find his mythical homeland -- despite the fact that no one that he meets has ever seen it on a map. His journey takes him across land and sea. He finds love, but it's not enough. Pride keeps him going, and by the end of the play, he's learned a lesson about what you give up while in the pursuit of your dreams.

As far as stories go, there's nothing new in The World Over. Adam's journey is reminiscent of another hero trying to find his corner of the sky and discovering all his needs in the simple joys of an ordinary life. But, unlike Pippin, Adam has to get along without a peppy score by Stephen Schwartz. In his favor, however, is director Tim Vasen's delightfully imaginative staging, not to mention the contributions of a crack design team consisting of Mark Wendland (set), Ilona Somogyi (costumes), Michael Chybowski (lighting), and David Van Tieghem (original music and sound). Props and costumes, seen at the beginning of the play within glass display cases, are magically deployed in different scenes: A ship's wheel emerges to transform an onstage carriage into an ocean-going vessel; an empty costume is filled by an actor who emerges as the Sultan of Peregrine; and an open drawer filled with blades of grass sets the scene for the countryside of Dvolnek. Sound and lighting also contribute to the highly theatrical experience, particularly during a fierce hurricane that provides a specacular finish to Act I.

Over 30 characters inhabit the play, played by seven actors. Kirk is the only one to inhabit just one role; unfortunately, his Adam is also a bit one-note; the actor isn't able to vary the character's emotions, nor does he adequately convey his growth. There are moments in which Kirk's laconic energy is wholly appropriate and others where his muddled diction and torpid line deliveries are contrary to the character's vigor and sense of purpose.

Fortunately, the play boasts a fine supporting cast. Isola is consistently strong but at his best in the Gryphon scene; his vocal intonations alternate between a lulling matter-of-factness that is slightly chilling and a high-pitched screeching which is somewhat comic. It's such a marvelous combination that I wished the Gryphon could have hung out longer than he did. Matthew Maher is also delightful in a number of his roles. His eyes alone make for compelling theater, endowing him with a commanding yet quirky stage presence. His turn as the pirate Darkly Jack is the first big comic sequence of the show, and Maher is equally amusing throughout the remainder of the play.

(left to right)  Justin Kirk, Mia Barron, James Urbaniak,Matthew Maher, and Rhea Seehorn in The World Over
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
(left to right) Justin Kirk, Mia Barron, James Urbaniak,
Matthew Maher, and Rhea Seehorn in The World Over
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Mia Barron isn't so impressive in her primary role as Adam's love, Isobel, but makes up for it in a return appearance as the haughty Queen of Amaranthia. Similarly, Stephen Largay is merely satisfactory in the majority of his parts but is pitch-perfect as the Red-Winged Hawk at the end of the play; in a lilting and somewhat unearthly tone, the hawk decides that Adam must have been put upon this earth solely for his amusement. Rounding out the cast are the ever-delightful James Urbaniak, whose deadpan expression goes hand-in-hand with a marvelous comic timing; and Rhea Seehorn, who seems to have been saddled with the majority of the one-dimensional femme fatale roles in the show.

Clocking in at just under two and a half hours, The World Over is a bauble that should be taken for what it is. Completely different from Bunin's previous works (e.g., last year's The Credeaux Canvas), the play is a bittersweet adventure story that may not be ground-breaking but is an entertaining journey nevertheless.