[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of The Secret World of Archy & Mehitabel adapted for the stage by Dan Gilvezan from the Evening Sun columnist Don Marquis’s famous musings and directed by Moosie Drier. With original score by jazz musician Dan West, who also performs live, at the Whitefire Theatre through October 15.
I knew absolutely nothing about Don Marquis before this play. A columnist and short story writer in the early part of the twentieth century in New York, Marquis found tremendous success working with The Sun, the New York Tribune, Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s and Cosmopolitan. His best-known creation, developed in 1916, was Archy, a cockroach who had been a free-verse poet in a previous life and who wrote poems on Marquis’s typewriter by jumping on the keys.
In this astonishing adaptation of Marquis’ work we find ourselves in the offices of “The Boss” who, arriving early to work one morning and played by Bill Chott with wonderful 1920s-esque finesse, walks into his office to find a cockroach typing a poem on his typewriter. Startled, the Boss stands transfixed while the bug happily completes his work and then slips off into the depths of the building. What he leaves behind is a personal message to the Boss, outlining who he, the cockroach Archy is, played beautifully by Dan Gilvezan, who he was when he was human, and how fervent is his need to communicate. A true artist, Archy’s only motivation is to be heard and to recount the many stories from the myriad of rodents, insects and various animals he comes across as he lives his life as a cockroach.
The Secret World of Archy & Mehitabel is an absolutely brilliant piece of theatre. In the truest sense of the word. It gleams and sparkles with wit, humor, and an utterly unique and gorgeously whimsical nature. Each character, whether insect or animal, resonates with a gloriously vivid charm, sweetly crafted, warmly written and affectionately played.
Saucy Ladybugs, nutty fireflies, egotistical toads, overactive fleas, psychotically driven moths and a wonderfully randy cat, Mehitabel, whose own curiously shifting story is really the heart of the play.
Carolyn Hennesy channels Mehitabel more than she performs her. She is this rampant, proud and beautifully poignant, slightly aging, ragged around the edges cat of many stories. She limps, she swaggers and she purrs her way into our hearts.
Other various bugs are played by the outrageously talented Richard Horvitz and Kelly Stables and we are all serenaded on the piano by the ingenious jazz musician, Dan West.
What’s so remarkable about The Secret World of Archy & Mehitabel is how very relevant it still is. How can a play about a bunch of tatty animals be relevant you may ask? I’m not exactly sure, to be honest, but maybe it’s the sweetness of the stories, the urgency of Archy to leave his mark, the touching humanity of each and every character in their search for love, or peace, or recognition. After all, isn’t that we all yearn for? To be seen, to be remembered, to be important, if only to our own small universe.
This play about a now obscure story written long ago has managed somehow to hold onto what made it exceptional and special a hundred years ago and now it becomes something new. A play populated with funny, clever, deeply moving characters and these gentle stories of their own small but vital lives. I loved this play. Every second of it. Every inspiring interpretation of every beautiful creature. It is magical and transportational and utterly unforgettable.
I urge you to go and see The Secret World of Archy & Mehitabel at the Whitefire Theatre. Everyone in this play is a stone-cold genius and I am telling everyone I know that they must buy a ticket immediately!!!
Bill Chott, Dan Gilvezan, Carolyn Hennesy, Richard Horvitz & Kelly Stables
Choreographer/Dancer Buckley Sampson, Scenic Designer Jeff G. Rack and Lighting, Sound & Projections Designer Nick Foran. Produced by Joselle Celine
Through October 15
13500 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423