Spirits to Enforce 

The Bluestockings at Performance Works Northwest

It's nice to see a theater company come out swinging once in a while. The Bluestockings' decision to stage Mickle Maher's challenging Spirits to Enforce was an ambitious one, and it pays off in a show that, while flawed, nonetheless has much to offer audience members interested in theatrical fare outside the purview of the Samuel French catalogue.

Twelve superheroes have taken up residence in a submarine outside the island city of Fathom Town. They're manning telephones in a fundraising drive for an upcoming production of The Tempest, to be performed by themselves; meanwhile, Fathom Town is increasingly besieged by bad guys. The biggest, baddest guy of them all is the evil Dr. Cannibal, AKA Caliban, who, hundreds of years earlier, on the very same island, achieved literary immortality as the monster in Shakespeare's The Tempest. It turns out these superheroes are so interested in The Tempest because it is the story of their own past: The elemental spirits that once lived on the island are now manifest as superheroes with identities like "Fragrance Fellow."

All of this information is revealed to us in snippets of phone conversation, as the superheroes sit at their phones, cajoling money out of prospective audience members.

Most of the characters are defined largely by their superpowers, and thus remain firmly in the two-dimensional realm, but they're funny nonetheless—Clara Liis Hillier as the Intoxicator and Terry Lybecker as the Untangler are particularly good. Vivien Lyon, meanwhile, grounds the kooky cast as Ariel, a spirit who was also in The Tempest, and whose difficulty portraying herself threatens to ruin the superheroes' production.

I found that keeping track of the superheroes and their roles in The Tempest (program notes serve as a helpful cheat sheet) while simultaneously trying to piece fragments of phone conversation into a coherent whole was quite difficult. The Bluestockings would have done well to slow the show down a bit—the script is extremely dense, and were a little more attention paid to clarity and pacing, the audience would be able to get far more out of it.

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