Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jasper in Deadland: Being Dead Never Felt So Alive

Matt Doyle in Prospect Theater Company's Jasper in Deadland
Photo by Matt Murphy

I'm going to preface this write up by saying that I did have a bit of a bias coming to seeing Prospect Theater Company's production of Jasper in Deadland-- not so much because the book and music writer, Ryan Scott Oliver, is a colleague of mine (Crazytown represent), but because I have been a huge fan of his music for years now and couldn't help getting excited about a new production of his work.

Jasper, a tale loosely inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice, follows a high school boy who, upon finding out his best friend died after the two had a falling out, goes into the underworld on a quest to save her. The show features a book by Hunter Foster and is gorgeously and creatively staged in this production by Brandon Ivie. Jasper tackles a lot of interesting existential questions about life, memory, and sacrifice-- all ideas illustrated by a strange and kooky cast of characters with big numbers and wacky personalities, played to impressive effect by the ensemble of six. There are a lot of plot points to juggle-- an evil corporate head honcho looking to sell his memory-erasing products in the world of the living, Jasper's troubled home life and how it affects his withdrawn outlook on the world, the quest to reach the mythical Elysium to find paradise-- and it can be a lot at times, especially when everyone get their solos in the spotlight.

But beating at the heart of it all is a touching tale of best friends Jasper and Agnes, played affectingly by Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti. While the world falls down around them, sometimes literally, their bond helps them navigate both real world and underworld creations of hell. It's a really interesting exploration of a close friendship and how that bond can change in the face of romantic love. I almost wish this was explored a little more explicitly, as sometimes the central love story (both platonic and romantic) often takes a backseat to raging gods, mysterious riddles, and other plot twists.

What I love about Jasper is that it looks at the afterlife not through the lens of Dante's Inferno or angels at the pearly gates (though there are allusions to both), but through a very real eternal existence. The show begs the question: What is the meaning of life if you already knows what comes after? Does seeing your eternal fate changes your very real, immediate one? Perhaps Jasper doesn't have all the answers, but if this production affirms the life of new musical theatre (which it does), then it's more than fulfilled a worthy purpose here on earth.

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