Last Thursday night I went with my husband and a couple friends to see The House Theatre’s new production, “The Sparrow”.
I’m not a big theatre-goer, but I see a few plays a year; usually one or two are at The House, since their ideas of what is entertaining seem to correspond almost exactly to mine. The House’s original shows – at least the ones I’ve seen – explore ideas of heroes and villains, the archetypes and basic plot elements found in genre entertainment like science fiction, comic books, and westerns. “Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe” was straight-up science fiction, with time travel and space opera parody, and the 2004 punk-rock musical “The Curse of the Crying Heart”, which was one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in my life, mixed Kurosawa-style samurai drama with anime-style battles with demons, and added a few tragic romances for good measure. (It had swordfighting, guitar-playing, and wirefighting. I was giddy for hours.)
The Sparrow uses elements of classic superhero stories: the midwest small town setting of Superman’s early years and a superpowered heroine with the awkward bookishness of Peter Parker. The play tells a story of the aftermath of tragedy, of alienation and acceptance and high school angst. There’s no supervillian and no combat, but there’s a lot of action in the form of dancing: the bustle of a high school hallway, a fetal pig dissection, and a basketball game are all choreographed, and there are some balletic sequences that represent flying.
The original score and the dancing are both well-integrated into the story, and make The Sparrow a coherent, thoughtful play full of melancholy and grace. Just the way I like my superhero stories.