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Theater review: Complicite’s Lionboy roars at the New Victory Theater

By Helen Shaw
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*** [THREE STARS]

The futuristic fable Lionboy dramatizes a misunderstanding between species. Not 'twixt cat and human—young hero Charlie Ashanti (Martins Imhangbe) can talk to felines of all stripes. Rather, the breakdown happens between book and stage.

At first, Marcelo Dos Santos seems confident adapting the Lionboy trilogy by Zizou Corder (nom de plume of mother-daughter team Louisa Young and Isabel Adomakoh Young). The beloved (if didactic) children's series follows a boy who joins the circus, rescues big cats and fights Big Pharma. But three books of episodic adventure don't cram together easily; worse, Dos Santos retains the books' third-person perspective, forcing actors to narrate rather than play.

There's excitement if characters get to act, e.g., when animal tamer Maccomo (Femi Elufowoju, Jr.) screams at drugged and sullen lions. Yet these thrills only highlight how dull the company's story-theater singsong can become. Staged by Complicite's Clive Mendus and James Yeatman, Lionboy's poor-theater magic is provided by a percussionist, a balloon and a bit of shadow-play. There's invention here, but the aesthetic requires a more engaged audience. The distancing technique is thus all the more dangerous, and everyone knows you shouldn't be clumsy around a lion's tale.

New Victory Theater (see Off Broadway). Adapted by Marcelo Dos Santos from books by Zizou Corder. Directed by Clive Mendus and James Yeatman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission. Through Feb 1.

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