In many cases, superhero fiction turns a reluctant human into a life-changing force for good with the discovery of a special power. Psychokinesis, invisibility, shape-shifting and teleportation are often found within the soul of a mortal which is now filled with a virtuous arsenal.
But what if that superpower is the tendency to love without hesitation, in hopes of a warm, gentle embrace to ward off past loneliness and isolation? Maybe it’s just a desire to be comfortable in your own skin, because sometimes you just want to “wipe off the green.” Those aspirations may not be as sexy as the ability to leap tall buildings in a single range, but they are just as important.
“Lizzard Boy,” Theaterworks Silicon Valley’s first production in 19 months, and the first of artistic director Tim Bond’s new stint, is an absolute delight, a comic tale that challenges comic book hero mythology and aims at deeply through three artists who are big on talent and bold on ideas.
Justin Huertes is the phenomenal mind behind the show, a multi-hyphenate that unleashes a character on the world who is the ultimate outsider. In addition to writing the book, music and lyrics, he portrays the reluctant protagonist Trevor, and plays the guitar and cello.
Trevor has lived a life of solitude, “just a boy who looks like a lizard.” One of his great adventures resulted in a freak accident with a dragon from Mount St. Helens. It was a struggle that left him with green scales on top of his naturally brown skin. Those scales make for a lot of awkward conversation, but he fits in perfectly at the annual Monsterfest, his only outing, where the denizens totally ditch his “dress.”
Yet other parts of the year present a challenge as his desires become more important. He craves deeper connections, which leads to a grinder profile, leaving him a little disappointed that adding half an inch to reflect his true height isn’t an option.
A match ensues with Carey (William A. Williams). Carey is a charismatic and handsome gentleman who has no pretense about his desires, rockin’ tight blue underwear at the beginning. This urgency is overwhelming for Trevor, even if his Grindr profile mistakenly suggested otherwise.
Another dynamic that Trevor is working with is a singer haunting his dreams, the aptly named Siren (Kirsten “Kiki” Delohar Healand), a golden-throated phenom who Shines in a silky red colour. Both Carrie and Trevor go to The Crocodile nightclub where the siren is performing, eventually leading to a fight for the survival of the world.
The power of the brilliant and inventive story, which stemmed from its 2011 commission from the Seattle Repertory Theater and its 2015 premiere there, is its cast and fluid musicianship, handled by director Brandon Ivy. Each item on stage is a storytelling instrument, and there’s more to play than traditional guitars and guitar strums. Kazoos, a toy piano, a melodica and some nifty beat-boxing all appear with gratifying results, which Robert J. Surrounded by an eerie lighting design by Aguilar and Jeff Mockus’ ubiquitous sound design.
The trio’s vocals are full of tight harmony and personal flourish, with indie rock music relying heavily on witty word play. Healand in particular does some serious heavy lifting, showcasing a stellar high register that others make up for. All this music becomes a gentle love story, set amidst several Seattle touchstones, that lengthens for dreamy sunsets over Puget Sound while enjoying Dick’s delicious cheeseburgers. Huertas clearly embraces the beauty of his city, with strange and wacky elements in the shadow of the Space Needle.
As wonderful and satisfying as next-level music is, it’s everyone’s approach to the story that makes “Lizzard Boy” so poignant, so delightful. In this story, Huertas rails against the traditional nature of what a superhero should be.
In this case, it’s the Filipino American with dark, scaly skin who fights to save the world. And when it comes time to survey what he has achieved, Trevor stands up proudly and takes off his glasses so that he can take everything. But then he quickly puts them back.
Turns out, he needed to see it.
David John Chavez is the president of the American Theater Critics Association. Twitter @davidjchavez.
By Justin Huertas, Presented by Theaterworks Silicon Valley
By: October 31
where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.
Ticket: $30-$100 ($25 for streaming); 650-463-1960, www.theatreworks.org