Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark - Story Review

How can a comic book hero with a fifty year comic book history have his story adapted for the stage?

Some of the best parts of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark were inspired not from comic books but from classic theater. In classic Greek theater, the Greek Chorus narrated the story, carried the themes forward, and gave the audience background information to move the story forward. Shakespeare used the Three Witches (or Weird Sisters or Sister Fates) in his play Macbeth for much the same function. In Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Arachne serves in this role.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark pits Spidey against the Green Goblin

The play opens with Peter Parker giving a report on the myth of Arachne. Arachne challenges the goddess Athena to a weaving contest and wins, only to be turned into the first spider because she blasphemed the gods. Thematically, the idea of a human being transformed into an animal is mirrored by Norman Osborne's experiments in human-animal DNA hybrids.

Arachne then revisits Peter throughout the play, guiding him toward the heroic path, telling him to "rise above" his own concerns and doubts and to do the right thing.

Some of the plot was obviously directly inspired by the first two Spider-Man films. First, the characters are almost identical: Peter, Mary Jane, Flash Thompson Norman Osborne, Aunt May, Uncle Ben, Robbie Robertson and J. Jonah Jameson. Notably absent was Harry Osborne. It would have been nice to use other characters such as Felicia Hardy, Liz Allen, Ned Leeds, Jean DeWolff, Glory Grant, or Gwen Stacy.

The storyline closely mirrors the first two movies, sometimes almost scene by scene. Peter gets bit, comes home sick, and wakes up with amazing powers, just like the first movies. He wrestles with Bonesaw (not Crusher Hogan like the comics), just like the movie. He fights the Green Goblin (who invites Spider-Man to join him), just like the first movie. He quits being Spider-Man at one point and his costume ends up on J. Jonah Jameson's wall, just like in the second movie. Peter and Mary Jane romance one another, but Peter is always absent and misses the opening of her play, just like the movies. I could go on and on!

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark's
Miss Swiss
Now I don't want to make it sound like the ENTIRE play is exactly like the movie. There are certainly a fair number of original elements as well. Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark features not one villain but EIGHT (and the villainous group, Viper)! When Spider-Man is first testing out his powers he stops bank robbers lead by the villain Hammerhead. Then, of course, Norman Osborne becomes the Green Goblin. Osborne then turns all of his lab assistants into superhumans as well, making the Sinister Six! The Sinister Six is comprised of Carnage, the Lizard, Kraven the Hunter, Electro, Swarm, and the all-new character,  Miss Swiss! Miss Swiss is a walking Swiss Army Knife with spinning blades all over. All of the Sinister Six is very underdeveloped and are dispatched in several quick scenes, however. Strangely Spider-Man never learns about Viper, the group responsible for pushing Osborne into making his DNA hybrid creations. This leaves the major bad guy organization behind the whole thing off scott free - an odd loose end in the story.

While the plot is extremely full with many different elements, it (for the most part) seems to smoothly weave them together and flow from one to the next. There are times that seem to be fast-forwarded over that I wish had been given more attention, such as Uncle Ben's death and funeral (in the play, the origin is changed slightly and Spidey never has a chance to stop the thief, lessening the impact of the scene. Also, Spidey never tracks down his uncle's killer!). The theme of rising above adversity and your own limitations is seen brightly throughout the play, which helps tie the entire show together.

The finished product was much stronger than reports of the initial story before extensive revisions. While not perfect, the plot balances character, story, and action very nicely.

1LR REVIEW - 15 out of 20! It's a Hit!

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