It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Hero School, swooping into August to rescue kids from the dog days of summer!
Theatre Horizon's new interactive children's theater production, an addition to the Norristown theater's three-show mainstage season, is a clever short play by Philadelphia playwright Jeremy Gable that puts the audience in superhero training. The cast of six, directed by Emmanuelle Delpech, lead us — kids and adults, limited to 30 people total — on a surprising adventure through the building.
The villain intrudes
Parents will enjoy tagging along, but kids are the focus. Heroes Paint-By-Numbers (Johanna Kasimow) and Chrono (Brett Ashley Robinson) greet the kids and guide them in making "power bracelets," which are stored in a case until graduation. Student Juanita (Taysha Canales), who's trying to pass for the 37th time, acts as guide and kid wrangler, assisted by Edgar (Fred Brown), the janitor whose mop has special powers.
We're taken to star teacher Captain Felix (Ben Grinberg) on the Horizon stage, surrounded by detailed chalkboards full of lessons like "The Geometry of Capes." We practice our heroic poses — a necessary skill to master — until interrupted by Polonium Malograve (Aram Aghazarian), who steals all our power bracelets, including Felix's. From there, we become assistant superheroes on a chase that includes robots, crossing an ocean, and a climactic showdown.
The set, by Colin McIlvaine, filled with low-budget, low-tech innovations, encompasses the lobby, hallways, backstage areas, and the theater. Jillian Keys's costumes are similarly handmade, yet clever and resourceful. Pax Ressler's sound adds a high-tech futuristic sheen, and Alyssandra Docherty's lighting heightens the mystery.
A gentle ride
Gable and Delpech carefully shape the adventure to pack a lot of interactive events into the play's 40 minutes, involving kids in solving problems through observation and reasoning. The small audience means that all kids receive individual attention; they're not lost in the crowd. The play's superhero tropes are familiar and nothing gets too scary, even for the littlest heroes — and if it does, Juanita and Edgar are right there.
One needn't have a kid in tow to enjoy Hero School. We don't get to make our own power bracelets or walk in graduation, but adults are full participants in everything else — however, like the kids, only as much as we want to be. They offer two "relaxed" performances, specially adjusted sensory-friendly shows for children on the autism spectrum or for anyone who prefers a calmer environment.
Hero School is carefully crafted for fun and gentle learning, with a positive moral that's organic to the story and not contrived or overstated. Hero School includes everyone and doesn't condescend, and that's a great lesson.