Photo by Morgan Sophia Photography
The titular character (Sarah Romeo) plots with her Uncle Craig (Troy Davidson) in the Florida premiere of The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd.
By AARON KRAUSE
Time travel sounds so tempting, doesn’t it? Indeed, if you regret something that you did, you simply let a time machine whisk you back so you can undo your deed.
With that in mind, would you hop aboard the device and travel back for that purpose?
Without preaching, and with much humor as well as compassion, The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd makes you think before you answer such questions.
Certainly, Stephen Brown’s moving and thought-provoking play keeps your attention for each of its roughly 90 intermission-less minutes. That became evident during a recent performance of the Florida premiere of the comic drama. It is running through Oct. 8 in a believable and engaging production by Theatre Lab. The organization is Florida Atlantic University’s professional theater company. Its staff dedicates itself to producing new work.
Under Artistic Director Matt Stabile’s sensitive direction, expert staging, and deft pacing, the actors fully inhabit their characters. In addition to the talent onstage, the backstage artists succeed in bringing Brown’s world and Stabile’s vision to vivid life.
The play experienced its world premiere production at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. There, the piece won the 2022 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwrighting Competition.
At Theatre Lab, the play is this year’s selection for the company’s annual Heckscher Theatre for Families series. As part of Theatre Lab’s mission to inspire, develop, and produce new work, artists, and audiences for the American theater, the company offers one production each season to engage the imaginations of audiences of all ages.
The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd is a cautionary play that never feels like an admonishment or lecture. Instead, Brown’s play wraps us in a gentle caress as it touches on different themes. They include the omnipresence of technology, the potential dangers of relying on it too much, the necessity of respecting people’s privacy, the importance of education, family, and not being selfish, as well as the inevitability and even value of making mistakes.
It’s OK to slip up, the playwright seems to tell us. In fact, even the titular character is human and capable of erring. She is a 12-year-old computer and science genius. For instance, she has little problem hacking into the AT&T mainframe. And for her seventh-grade science project, the pre-teen devised an artificial intelligence system named Grace for her home. (Picture a more sophisticated version of Alexa).
But the pre-teen is not quite sure how to convince her divorced parents to get back together. Then she realizes that she may have to identify the moment when her parents’ relationship began to unravel, and travel back in time to alter that moment so that the couple never separates. Using high-powered laser beams she somehow convinced the Department of Defense to send her, and items she has in her home, Jasmine builds a time machine. Her Uncle Craig helps her and actually does the travelling. But before the play is over, Jasmine learns that even time travel is imperfect and cannot bring her the perfect reality. Actually, nobody’s reality is perfect, the play suggests.
Some youngsters may find it difficult to welcome a stepparent into their lives because they feel that person is taking the place of their biological parent. But Jasmine does not approve of her father’s girlfriend for a different reason – she doesn’t feel that they are compatible. How does she know? She relies on a system of complex algorithms and statistics. When taken all together, the data conclude that her father and his girlfriend do not make a good match.
Fortunately for those of us not well-versed in science, Brown has limited technical terms. To his credit, he has created recognizable characters with whom you should be able to identify (yes, even the titular prodigy). Further, Jasmine and at least one other character learn something valuable about life. Combine life lessons learned with compassionate, vivid writing, as well as plenty of humor, and you have the ingredients for a memorable afternoon or evening of live theater.
Brown writes with compassion. Perhaps that is because he based the piece on his experiences. As you will read in the playwright’s note in the production’s program, Brown’s parents divorced when he was 10 and he found the change difficult to deal with. “I would go to the only place where I felt like I had control as a 10-year-old…my imagination,” Brown wrote.
In fact, throughout his career as a playwright, Brown has used his imagination to create worlds filled with poignancy and humor, populated by relatable characters. Brown is no stranger to Theatre Lab audiences or South Florida theater audiences in general. For instance, in December 2019, Theatre Lab staged a strong production of Brown’s bittersweet dramedy, Everything is Super Great. It focuses on, among things, art and the need for human connection.
Also, this past July, Ft. Lauderdale’s New City Players mounted an impressive production of Brown’s funny and touching play, Little Montgomery. Brown writes vividly in that play, as he does in The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd. Also, through humor, Brown in both plays gently disarms us so that we are receptive to serious themes.
With the stage musical adaptation of the classic 1985 sci-fi film Back to the Future playing on Broadway, this seems like an apt time to mount a show that also features time travel. And credit Theatre Lab for choosing for its Heckscher series a play that will likely appeal to people of most ages. True, axing a line about Santa Claus’s existence might help win over more kiddos. On the other hand, youngsters experiencing the show will be able to relate to a character their own age. While she is a genius, she sometimes speaks in a manner similar to real-life youth. For instance, she uses the word “like” more than once.
In reality, adult cast member Sarah Romeo could pass for a youngster. Romeo believably portrays Jasmine, lending her a confident, driven aura without making the girl arrogant beyond likability. While Romeo delivers a sincere performance, she could perhaps shed a tear or two during a particularly touching moment in the play.
Meanwhile, as Jasmine’s scientist mother, Kendra, Sheena O. Murray skillfully balances strictness with devotion, making the character stern but loving. Also, Murray imbues her character with a hint of ambition.
In his script, Brown describes Jasmine’s father, Doug, as “the living embodiment of a dad-joke. In a good way.”
To his credit, Timothy Mark Davis lends Doug a wide-eyed optimistic and sweet aura, coming across as more naïve, well-meaning, and ineffectual than Jasmine. In fact, at times during the production, a role reversal seems to play out. In particular, Romeo’s Jasmine seems like a stern, questioning parent, while Davis’s Doug is the innocent child wondering what he did wrong.
Speaking of children, Brown describes Uncle Craig as a “petulant older brother.” And Troy Davidson believably plays the character as a put-upon relative. He easily grows frustrated with Jasmine’s insistence that he continue to travel to the past until the girl gets what she desires in the present.
Juliana Parris plays the voice of artificial intelligence system “Grace” without speaking in a monotone. Instead, Parris injects Grace with authentic emotion, making her seem like a real person with feelings.
Brandon J. Campell lends Corporal Delmar a laid-back southern charm. And the actor injects Jasmine’s “friend,” 12-year-old Todd, with naivete and optimism.
Behind the scenes, scenic designer Aubrey Kestell has created a bright, colorful, spacious, realistic-looking area to suggest Jasmine’s room. It includes appropriate details such as posters of figures you might expect a 12-year-old girl and science fiction fan to decorate her room with. “Grace” resembles a lamp with a green light emanating from it.
The production sets other scenes in an off-stage area that could stand for many places.
Lighting designer Tom Shorrock’s work includes otherworldly lighting to suggest the time machine, in addition to a more realistic design for ordinary, every-day scenes. And video designer Robert Goodrich helps turn Jasmine’s room into a high-tech world.
While Theatre Lab’s Heckscher Theatre for Families Series appeals to adults, it serves as a wonderful introduction to live theater for youth who may never have experienced a play or musical. In fact, more than 1,000 local students from partner schools and organizations will see this show. In addition, they will participate in free creative writing workshops, with the goal of submitting a story from their own lives, based on one of the play’s themes. It sounds like a win-win for all involved.
Theatre Lab’s Florida Premiere production of The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd runs through Oct. 8 at the lab. It is located on Florida Atlantic University’s campus in Boca Raton. The address is 777 Glades Road, but it might be helpful to contact the theater to get the exact location. You can call (561) 297-6124 or go to Florida Atlantic University | Student Union Ticketing – The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd by Stephen Brown (universitytickets.com). Show times are at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $25 for adults. Family pack tickets for parties of children and adults are available for $5 to $12.50.
Photo by Morgan Sophia Photography
Kendra (Sheena O. Murray) and the titular character (Sarah Romeo) catch Doug (Timothy Mark Davis) at an awkward time.