There are possibly no two events less alike than the apocalypse and a day at Disney. Yet these are the two events playwrights Jillian Leff and Joe Lino juxtapose in their play Small World, currently making its world premiere with The New Colony. After a series of explosions rock the Magic Kingdom, three employees are trapped inside “it’s a small world,” the tunnels on either side of them caved in and one of them, Kim, impaled in the thigh by a metal flag. It’s a dire set of circumstances, yet Leff and Lino manage to find both light and darkness in these characters and their situation in this fresh take on the end of the world.
The first thing you need to know is that, yes, the song “it’s a small world” does play in the background for 80 minutes of this 85-minute show. And isn’t that just how it would be? Bombs are going off, the building is collapsing, the characters are covered in dirt and blood and scrapes and bruises, but that song keeps playing on loop as though nothing’s changed. Luckily there’s plenty of other sound happening to distract you from the repetitive nightmare of Disney’s catchiest, most optimistic little tune: sound designer Erik Siegling does a spectacular job creating an auditory landscape of structures creaking and collapsing, the moat swishing, and all the other ambient sounds that tell the story of destruction in a way that’s logistically impossible to do visually.
Trapped underground together, Donny, Becca, and Kim end up revealing parts of themselves they might otherwise have kept concealed from their coworkers. Kim‘s undying devotion to Disney and all it represents stands in opposition to Becca’s much more jaded outlook. Donny, meanwhile, has some ideological surprises up his sleeve, professing a brand of crazy that’s so nuts it’s entirely believable. Leff and Lino successfully locate the dark corners of the human mind and put them on display, letting absurd comedy collide with harsh reality in a display as gritty as the ruined ride, an environment brought to full and horrifying life by set designer Sotirios Livaditis and scenic painter Natalie Santoro. Costume and makeup designer Uriel Gomez brings the blood and grime off the set and onto the characters, who have obviously been through an intense ordeal the moment the curtain opens.
The acting ensemble is small but strong. Patriac Coakley is utterly committed in his portrayal of Donny’s insane worldview, but he still comes off normal in the earlier parts of the play. Jackie Seijo is grounded and likeable as the rational, emotionally damaged Becca. But I was most impressed by Stephanie Shum, who not only performs with a prop attached to her leg the entire show, but also conveys such determined optimism in the face of excruciating pain that it’s breathtaking to watch.
Jillian Leff and Joe Lino have created something truly unique with Small World; get your fast pass lined up to watch the end of the world in the happiest place on earth.
Location: The Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Dates: Thursday, April 4 – Saturday, May 4, 2019
Curtain times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, April 21 (Easter).
Industry Nights: Monday, April 15 at 7:30 pm and Monday, April 29 at 7:30 pm
Understudy Night: Monday, April 22 at 7:30 pm
Tickets: $20. Students/seniors: 25% off. Tickets are on sale now on The New Colony website.
All photos by Evan Hanover.