Lenny Schwartz is known for writing new plays, his terrific sense of humor and his love of comic books. He has skillfully combined these into his newest work, DITKO, now playing at RISE in Woonsocket. This is Schwartz’s return to his popular bio-plays, having previously delved into the worlds of Charles Schultz, Lucille Ball and Bill Finger, among others. Schwartz has returned to the world of showing us the inside of an artist’s head.
DITKO tells the story of Steve Ditko, the co-creator of both Spiderman and Doctor Strange. Generally, when one thinks of these characters they think of the summer blockbusters that have cameos from none other than the late Stan Lee, the face of Marvel Comics, and it’s that assumption that the play is banking on to challenge what you thought, and to delve into the story behind the panels.
Playing the eventual recluse Steve Ditko is Derek Lauredeau, who does an admirable job in this role. Playing opposite, as Ditko’s antagonist Stan Lee, is Geoff White, who at times made you forget you were watching Geoff White play Stan Lee, and not a documentary with clips of Stan Lee. His performance was funny, and surprisingly touching. I’ll be honest, and I hope I don’t lose my geek card for this, but I don’t follow comics, so all I really know of Lee is his silly cameos from Mallrats and every Marvel movie – however, Schwartz has written some touching moments in this for White to play with and it’s a perfect marriage of words and performer. Anne Bowman embodies Ayn Rand as Ditko grapples with his principles and the harsh realities of the world. Rounding out is a wonderful ensemble of actors. Michael Capalbo as Jerry Robinson really set the tone of that 1950’s, comic book feel. And, he was so funny I had trouble containing my laughter when he was on stage. You wouldn’t think a scene about going off to the army could be funny, but Tonia Klemp and Dave Almeida managed to do just that, lighting up the stage in the roles of Ditko’s parents. Every performer brought something special to this show, from Jonah Coppolelli’s terrific comedic timing to Chris Ferreira’s energy, this talented cast brings Ditko’s story to life.
There is something special about seeing theater. When it comes to brand new stories and scripts written by local playwrights, it’s like Christmas and my birthday all wrapped into one! To create something new from nothing is an awe-inspiring experience. For that alone, you should head out to see this production. Now, pair that with Schwartz’s knack for dialogue, a cast that brings something special and unique in every role, and a story that is filled with the right mix of drama and laughter, this really is a must see.
Steve Ditko was a man who lived with his principles, even when others may have seen him as difficult, even when it may have forced his hand to leave a project. In a time where we don’t always see people living by their convictions, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a story where principles matter, even if they are principles you personally may not hold. It’s become common practice to bear witness to our “leaders” pushing aside principle in order to maintain the status quo. When I sat down to see Ditko, I thought how nice it would be to lose myself in a non-political story, however when I left I thought, “What a perfect play for the times we are living in.”
Ditko runs November 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 at 8pm at the RISE Playhouse in Woonsocket. Tickets can be purchased on smartix.com