Jonathan Kells Phillips, left, and Michael Holmes in "Neverwhere"… (Jessica Sherman )
Noteworthy creativity accompanies “Neverwhere” in its ambitious West Coast premiere at Sacred Fools. Robert Kauzlaric’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel about a parallel world beneath London isn’t flawless, but director Scott Leggett and his resourceful forces turn virtual handsprings to make it play.
Originally a 1996 BBC mini-series, “Neverwhere” echoes “Doctor Who,” Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and countless fantasy chronicles, not least “The Wizard of Oz.” When office drone Richard Mayhew (Michael Holmes) encounters unconscious Door (Paula Rhodes) on the street, his Good Samaritan impulses upend his life.
Indicatively named Door is the sole survivor of a slaughtered noble family from London Below, which functions concurrently with our world. After joining Door’s vengeance quest, Richard discovers he has ceased to exist in London Above. A labyrinthine allegory ensues.
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Although designer Michael James Schneider’s set tends toward serviceable, it allows for many atmospheric effects, with Matt Richter’s prismatic lighting, Mark McClain Wilson’s ominous sound and Martin Morse’s eclectic costumes particularly evocative.
Faced with daunting technical and spatial challenges, director Leggett's avid cast spans the venue with aplomb. Holmes has an apt Everyman quality, though his dialect fluctuates (he’s not alone there), and Rhodes is suitably spunky, if lacking in melancholy undertow. Standouts among their multi-parted colleagues include Jonathan Kells Phillips’ flamboyant Marquis, Devereau Chumrau’s fierce Hunter, Carlos Larkin’s ambiguous Islington and the scene-stealing assassins of Ezra Buzzington and Bryan Krasner.
The impressive execution often counters Kauzlaric’s schematic narrative, which is alternately witty, precious and obviated. Its near-three-hour running time mirrors the miniseries, yet arid patches surface throughout. Devotees of the property and this ever-fearless company may nonetheless be transported.
“Neverwhere,” Sacred Fools Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Also, 8 p.m. Thursdays, starting April 25. Ends May 25. $25. (310) 281-8337 or www.sacredfools.org. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.
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