Custommade premiers exciting political drama, ‘Little Brother’

(Charles Kruger)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“Little Brother” adapted by Josh Costello fom the novel by Cory Doctorow. Producer: CustomMade Theatre. Director: Josh Costello. Set: Sarah Phykitt. Costumes: Miyuki Bierlein. Lights: Krista Smith. Sound: Chris Houston. Video: Pauline Luppert. 

Darryl: Cory Censoprano. Ange: Marissa Keltie. Marcus: Daniel Petzoid.

Who is Cory Doctorow? If you do not know, ask the brightest teenager of your acquaintance and you’ll likely get an earful. Doctorow is the hippest hipster, a science fiction and young adult novelist, who writes like an amalgam of William Gibson and Judy Blume. As a futurist, his anticipations are as uncanny as H. G. Wells, except where Wells’s predictions took generations, Doctorow’s come to pass in a matter of months.

CustomMade Theatre Presents "Little Brother", a play by Josh Costello adapted from the novel by Cory Doctorow. Photo Credit: CustomMade Theatre.

His novel Little Brother (adapted for the stage by Josh Costello) was published in 2008. It is an indictment of the dangers of Homeland Security that uncannily anticipates today’s conversations. It describes the world from the perspective of high school students caught up in the net of anti-terrorism efforts after a terrorist attack in San Francisco.

These students inhabit a world where schools are like prisons with a video camera in every classroom and a guard in every hallway, public transportation is in the hands of rogue cops, peacefully assembling young people are subject to chemical weapons attacks and, as they eventually conclude, nobody over 25 can be trusted. Wait minute! Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Marcus (Daniel Petzold),  his friend Daryl (Cory Censoprano) and love interest Angie (Marissa Keltie) are caught truant on the day of a terrorist attack in downtown San Francisco and find themselves taken into custody as possible enemy combatants.

They experience torture and abuse. Marcus and Angie return to their lives as high school students, but Daryl disappears.

Afraid to speak of their experience even to their parents for fear of retribution, Marcus and Angie use the Internet to organize an underground protest movement to take down Homeland Security.

It is a credit to Doctorow’s (and playwright/director Josh Costello‘s) story-telling sophistication and careful marshaling of facts that this story is almost completely convincing as it plays out on stage.

Costello has wisely tightened Doctorow’s book to three main characters. On a nearly empty stage, Costello utilizes video and sound effects superbly, creating multiple San Francisco locations, mass demonstrations, press conferences, online experiences and coaching his actors to create multiple characterizations as necessary.

This is the best kind of political theatre. Thought provoking, suspenseful, emotionally real, uncomfortably close to the hard truth.

For this extraordinary production, CustomMade Theatre has assembled some of the most distinguished talent in the Bay area. The excellence of the three actors can be seen in their exceptional resumes: between them, they have performed with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Marin Theatre Company, SF Playhouse, Marin Shakespeare and the Shotgun Players among others. These folk are the cream of the theatrical crop.

Adapter and Director Josh Costello is the Artist Director of Expanded Programs at Marin Theatre Company and a founder of Impact Theatre.

The design staff is equally remarkable. Miyuki Bierlein‘s costumes are exactly right as is Chris Houston‘s sound design. Pauline Luppert‘s video design is as polished as one could imagine. Krista Smith‘s lighting does an amazing job of capturing the look of San Francisco with light alone, from the early morning sun in the Mission to the ocean reflected light of the Sutro Baths.

This is an important production that is not to be missed. It is likely, I think, to remain a highlight of the 2012-2013 season. Very highly recommended!

Little Brother” plays through February 11. For further information, click here.


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