What could be better on a snowy night than curling up inside with a good book? The cast of Sal Hepatica enhanced this warm feeling during this weekend’s blizzard by bringing three classic stories to the stage in the ’92 Theater. The writings of Lewis Carroll, Julio Cortázar, and Eric Carle came to life under the creative direction of Wesleyan theater connoisseurs Zach Libresco ’13 and Bennett Kirschner ’13.
The show began before the audience even set foot in the ’92. As theatergoers chatted away in the Zelnick Pavilion, Paulie Lowther ’13 entered with a loud “Shhh!” to signal that story time was beginning. Lowther’s eccentric and high-energy acting style was perfect for a one-man telling of “Alice in Wonderland.” Unlike the average kids during childhood bedtime, no one needed to beg Lowther to do all of the voices of the characters and act out their parts. The audience was immediately sucked into the words and his story, and the Pavilion quickly turned into Wonderland itself. The ability to captivate the audience outside of the usual theatrical space, where it is common courtesy to be quiet and pay attention, was highly impressive and certainly speaks to Lowther’s talent to enchant an audience with ease.
After being led into the theater, the audience was greeted with jazz music and a set composed of towers of books. The importance of storytelling and books was emphasized throughout the rest of the show, as the books served as stand-in props for many common household items, such as a telephone and a record player.
The next segment was an adaptation of Julio Cortazar’s short story, “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris.” This bizarre story tells of a man, played by Libresco, who continually vomits bunnies as he seeks a life isolated from the world, and his housekeeper, played by Lauren Langer ’16. With large, sweeping movements and mischievous smiles to the audience, the performance remained fanciful without seeming childish.
The feeling of fantasy came through most clearly in the impeccable timing of the actors. Libresco fooled the audience with sleight of hand as he produced paper bunnies from his mouth throughout the performance. The rhythm of the show also remained consistent and flawless, especially when the actors ended a scene perfectly on the downbeat of a Benny Carter song. Regardless of whether these touches of precision were due to a drilling rehearsal process, the instinct of the actors, or pure magic is irrelevant, as the effect was a joy to watch.
In the last segment of “Sal Hepatica,” Kirschner took the stage as the storyteller to round up the evening with the classic children’s book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Certainly a fan favorite, Kirschner told the story with a gentle tone, bringing the show to a peaceful ending after the high energy released during the first two stories. Kirschner let our imaginations continue to work with ease as the audience pictured the apples and slice of cake the Hungry Caterpillar ate, while Lowther and Libresco slithered through the books in a costume that was an exact replica of Carle’s original illustration. The show ended with the cast finally putting our imaginations to rest, as Kirschner appeared as a beautiful butterfly.
“Sal Hepatica” was a wonderful representation of the creative genius of the Wesleyan students who put the show together. Although the stories were familiar, the words were nothing without the talent and theatrical nuances that made them come to life on stage. If any show was worth a walk through a blizzard, it was certainly this one.