A quarter life–crisis play with capes, Powerless revolves around a trio of superpowered twentysomethings trying to make their way in the world. It takes the serialized format of comic monthlies and translates it to the stage, with each “issue” comprising an act. The idea, pending a successful launch, is to continue the story with periodic new releases.
What would happen if government regulated the use of superpowers? The answer, essentially a class/race/age-based version of Marvel Comics’ recent Civil War crossover, divides Chicago’s community of powered individuals into two camps: the Humboldt Park–based Society of Young Superheroes and the mayor-sanctioned Metropolitan Superhero Conglomerate Corporation. The machinations of a sinister villain set them at odds while our struggling trio navigates its omnipresent post-college depression.
The stage is framed by a series of white panels upon which gorgeous original comic art is projected both to establish setting and to display fantastical power. This evokes some pulpy genre roots while deftly solving the primary problem in staging a superhero play: absurd or chintzy special effects. It allows powers to run the gamut from Multiple Man–style self-duplication to Ben Grimm–level strength.
The script needs a bit more work on establishing relationships. For a “team book,” there’s so little interaction among the main characters that I kept pining for someone to jump up and shout “hipsters assemble!” Still, Powerless can claim ultra-rare success in translating the superhero genre to the stage. The vivid integration of original comic art and serialized format feels vital and new.