- Leah Pfenning
Each winter since 2012, Ali el-Gasseir and Jonah Von Spreecken have written and performed a globe-trotting, mystery/adventure comedy for small children and the grown-ups who accompany them. The first was Urban Tanuki Samurai (which I missed) and last year's was Number 2 Quebecois Robot Detective Agency, in which they played rival French robot detectives named Phillipe Marleaux and Djohnny François who, in a surprisingly touching ending, turned out to be boys sublimating their anxiety about an upcoming move—or maybe only one of them was moving away, I can't remember—in an elaborate game of make-believe.
Their shows are in the mode of Saturday-morning cartoons—with early weekend shows full of chatty kids and sometimes slightly more mature late-night shows—but are a chance for el-Gassier and Von Spreecken to let their imaginations romp around in a way that feels slightly looser and freer than most theater.
This year's edition is The Icelandic Illumination Rangers, in which Iceland's two Illumination Rangers generate the aurora borealis by performing Reykjavik-inspired synth-pop and dance routines (with goofy lyrics about Björk, bears, falling trees, Sigur Rós, and national melancholy). When the Rangers get bored, start squabbling, and stop dancing, the northern lights disappear. Their adventure to find the aurora and bring it back to the sky takes them to the caves of shadow-trolls, dance contests, and fancy nightclubs. (The "tickets" are glow sticks.)
As performers, el-Gasseir and Von Spreecken are sweet but never cloying, they don't insult the intelligences of the kids or the grown-ups in the room, and they cheerfully go off-script when the opportunity—or, since they're playing for tiny kids, the necessity—presents itself. It's weirder, funnier, and more memorable than most cartoons. If you're a parent, you might consider treating the kids to el-Gasseir and Von Spreecken's shows an annual tradition.
And if you're a stoner who likes cartoons for grown-ups, you might consider treating yourself.