Time races by in Jordan Harrison's look at life as child's play.
“Kai won’t play normal,” a young girl complains about her over-imaginative brother, early in Jordan Harrison’s charming The Grown-Up. Harrison doesn’t play that normal himself—high-concept is his favored sandbox. I described his Maple and Vine at Next Theatre Company in 2011, a piece about 1950s enthusiasts who retreat to an artificially nostalgicized closed community, as a “thorny thought exercise”; Harrison’s Marjorie Prime, which this week was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and will be seen this fall at Writers Theatre, has aging memory patients comforted by holograms of their loved ones.
The Grown-Up, receiving its second production at Shattered Globe after debuting at last year’s Humana Festival, is just as playful. Kai’s teasing grandparents spin him a yarn about an antique doorknob in their house and its magical, transportational powers; he takes them at their word and activates the artifact, and seemingly moments later he finds himself in his mid-20s, with no idea how he got there. Each time he remembers the doorknob and uses it, he jumps ahead in time again.
Harrison’s working in the fairy-tale tradition; Kai’s name, and his sister Annabelle’s dogged mission to find out what happened to him, are references to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Director Krissy Vanderwarker outfits her actors in bright, mismatched colors, aptly suggesting kids playing grown-up, and handily manages the abrupt transitions.
For all the appeal of Shattered Globe’s production (a welcome departure from the company’s usual diet of standard-issue revivals), though, Harrison’s central metaphor remains elusive. Kai becomes a respected science-fiction author, and there’s the suggestion that he’s found himself inside one of his own stories. So is this a paean to the power of imagination? Or a commentary on life’s brevity? Annabelle’s investigation muddies the stream, as does the interpolation of an old-time pirate tale; still, the colorful journey is enjoyable.
Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit. By Jordan Harrison. Directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. With Kevin Viol, Bryan Bosque, Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Christina Gorman, Ben Werling, Joseph Wiens. Running time: 1hr 15mins; no intermission.