Alecto, Issue #1: A New Comic-Book Play That Takes Superheroes Seriously
Every comic-book fan understands The Curse of the Pow-Zap-Booms: what happens when a writer or director doesn't take superheroes seriously (I will never be able to fully scour the wet fart that was Batman and Robin from my brain). That winking ridicule of superheroics destroys the concept: You have to play the whole ridiculous idea of men in tights fighting crime completely straight to make it work.
The revelatory moment when fanboys understand that they can trust Alecto, Issue #1 comes very early in the play, when Jessica (Maridee Slater, who has a real knack for showing strength and weakness simultaneously) uses her superspeed to try and steal some antipsychotic meds. Jessica isn't a supervillain; she's a seriously fucked-up kid who can't afford the medication she needs, so she has to get it any way she can. At that moment, playwright Alexander Harris demonstrates that he understands comics; Alecto explores shades of morality the way more complex superhero comics—Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and so on—do.
And the superpowers seem cool on Annex's small stage (and no doubt meager budget). The whole world—sound, light, and all—slows as Jessica weaves around her glacial attackers. A few superpowers are represented in standard ways: Superstrength is simulated with dumbbells marked "1,000 lbs."; a telekinetic "throws" knives with her mind using the standard fishing wire hung from the rafters, but she also manipulates the set in a few surprising ways; and an electrically powered young hero's costume glows in the dark. The production team—in particular sound designer Michael Hayes, lighting designer Allysa Thompson, and Afton Pilkington, whose superhero costumes are classy and genre-appropriate—has done incredible work.
Alecto follows the Team of Heroes, an ad-subsidized superteam in need of a new member. Jessica (who usually talks things out with her imaginary friend, a befuddled pig in a cape played with Calvin and Hobbes–style tartness by Chris Bell) joins the ToH and learns that heroing is not as cut-and-dried as it looks from the outside. As the heroes appear in clever commercials (interspersed throughout the play), they struggle with the thought that they might not be improving the world by battling a gaudily dressed supervillain every other day. The cast is admirably dedicated to making a spandex wardrobe look like a credible life choice, especially Jason Sharp as Superman analog The Cap'n. Despite some problems with the script—the first scene explaining the source of Jessica's angst is completely unnecessary, and a way-too-heavy repetition of running gags in the second act annoys rather than entertains—Alecto is a complex joyride.