Camp Super Friend
nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
August 20, 2009
The name might lead you to believe it's a tongue-in-cheek adult-friendly take on kids' shows along the lines of Pee-wee's Playhouse, but there is nothing camp about Taproot Theatre Touring Company's Camp Super Friend. It is written by Bethany Wallace and staged by Josiah Wallace with the school audiences the Touring Company usually plays to in mind. It's a show that guarantees to deliver content on specific educational goals and normally it would be presented to a packed auditorium of a hundreds of kids and teachers.
The story is straightforward. A boy goes to camp a bookish loner and learns the downside of bullying, that differences are good, how to make friends, and that through teamwork he can accomplish more than he could on his own. Did you catch the educational goals? If not, don't worry, they will be repeated several times over the ensuing 50 minutes. The twist is that Marvel (played with charming sincerity and humor by Solomon Davis) is a young superhero off to superhero sleep-away camp, where, somewhat stereotypically, speed reading is not held in as high regard by some of his fellow campers as physically super traits like lifting heavy things or running extremely quickly.
The educational content is presented in a very pedantic way, lots of lists and definitions for the kids in the audience to memorize, and there's even a test of sorts at the end during the talkback. However, the silly super powers, enhanced by Mark Lund's sound design, the cast's over-the-top characterizations, and the fast pace keep it entertaining. Lund, the scenic as well as sound designer, has created a simple comic book panel backdrop and colorful moveable blocks to instantly bring the audience into the world of super heroes. Sarah Burch Gordon's costumes feature some great accessories (belts, hats, and iconic emblems), but I would have liked to see full-out superhero outfits to match Lund's scenery.
Though it could have a more theatrical approach to the way it imparts information, Camp Super Friend is a fun, exuberant kids' show that is suffering here from very unfortunate scheduling at the New York International Fringe Festival. The show is for young elementary school children, but four of the five performances have been scheduled at 5:00 p.m. or later. At the show I attended, the five actors made a truly valiant effort. They never let their energy drop or gave the impression they were anything less than thrilled to give what basically amounted to a private show for six kids and their accompanying guardians, but the show is dependent on a degree of audience response that just can't happen with that few children present. The good news is that the show's final performance on Saturday is at 2:15p.m. Hopefully that will mean that Marvel and his super friends at Camp Super Friend will get the big audience of enthusiastic kids the show needs and deserves.