If you want to see a sharp, witty and fun-filled stage play that tickles the funnybone as much as it fights for truth and justice, then the play Jade City Chronicles is the one for you. The work is produced by the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, and runs through May 28.
The play is a brought-to-life graphic novel about superhero Herald M. F. Jones (Mike Wiley), a young black man who discovers, through training by his Uncle Roscoe (Thaddaeus Edwards), that he has superpowers, specifically the ability to fly, and to produce and use power balls of energy. Malik Frasier (Jones’s real name) flies around Jade City in goggles and cape, helping the oppressed and bringing thugs to justice. His uncle Roscoe has instilled in him deep and abiding beliefs that he must use his abilities for good, and not for evil or even for expeditious “cleaning up” of the city.
He’s up against a lot. There is, first of all, Oliver Norton, AKA Memphis Snake, (Chris Burner), a supervillain who dresses like Elvis and generates electricity with his hands. He works for Dr. Simon Thorn, AKA The Head Mother, (Tony Perucci), a Lex Luthor-type villain who pulls the strings behind the drug distribution in the city. Thorn also has a hench-wench, Demented (Kala Wolfe), who is a sadist. They employ a number of thugs across the city, many of which are winding up dead — either strangled or injected with battery acid. This is the work of an undercover individual who dresses up like a bag lady to escape detection. As the curtain opens, Jones’s best friend and sidekick, Supreme Intellect (Kashif Powell) calls us in and tells us a little about Jade City and Jones in particular. He is selling T-shirts with Herald Jones insignia on them. It is here that we also meet Memphis Snake.
The entire work is presented like a cartoon, using a mind-bending series of technical devices to show Jones in flight, using his power balls, and cleaning up the city. It is a marvel to watch the complexities of the live action with the interspersed film of the “Biff, Pow” segments of the show. The stage is a street in Jade City within the Concrete Falls area of town. It is set so that the action takes place within “Panels” of text, as beams are placed at specific locales per scene, as if we were reading a graphic novel. The concept is tremendously entertaining, and it was so well received by the audience Friday night that there was applause after each scene of the play — the audience was really into this work.
Simon Thorn and Memphis Snake are moving in high circles; they have Mayor Jeremiah Muldoon (Venson Matthews) in their pocket, and they intend to wipe out all competition with regard to distribution within the city. Further, Thorn needs to get ahold of Herald Jones for a more nefarious scheme: he intends to get his DNA and combine it with that of Snake, to produce even more Super Bad Guys. Tony Perucci as Thorn is an absolute hoot as he uses a multitude of near indecipherable vocabulary to explain to Snake just what their plans are and how to execute them. He goes nowhere without Demented at his side and is just a few shades south of an even keel.
The action scenes are punctuated with an affair that is taking place between Jones and a doctor at the hospital where he takes those who need treatment. Dr. Najia Jackson (Lakeisha Coffey) is not supposed to know the true identity of Herald Jones; she is a sharp cookie, though, and finds out despite his efforts to conceal it.
The entire episode is a lark and a half, and it is superbly produced and executed. We all had a blast, and learned that what we had seen was only volume 1 of the Jade City Chronicles — volume 2 involves more of Mother, Snake, and the soon-to-be Son of Herald Jones. After such an entertaining introduction, we are already looking forward to volume 2.