Super Heroes Who Are Super!

The Apothecary, 1013 7th Street NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 10, at 10 p.m. (Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man and Wonder Woman No. 1) Wednesday, July 14, at 9:45 p.m. (Batman Adventures: Mad Love) Friday, July 16, at 10:15 p.m. (The Uncanny X-Men Nos. 127 & 128) Sunday, July 18, at 3:30 p.m. (The Uncanny X-Men Nos. 127 & 128)

They Say: “SUPER HEROES WHO ARE SUPER! delivers spectacular word-for-word staged readings of classic comic books featuring the best in fake superhero costumes and ‘special’ effects! Will the (sic) Hulk smash? Will Batman have that ridiculously gravely voice? Find out!”

Chris’s Take: With a great idea comes great responsibility.  And if you can’t see at least the potential for greatness in the Philly-based Save the Day Productions raison — staged readings of classic comic books —  well, then I suppose we have nothing further to discuss.  Except, perhaps, when and how your ability to experience delight was amputated from what you long-ago thought of as your soul.  Or indeed, why these people think it’s super heroes when it’s been accepted for decades that superhero is a perfectly cromulent word.

Truth, it all depends on the comics.

You’ll notice in the schedule above that StDP is performing three different shows during their Fringe run; the one I saw repeats only tonight.  That’s a tragedy on par with Wonder Woman’s Seinfeldian new jacket, because it’s a particularly fecund double bill.

The 1976 Marvel and DC-Universe mashup Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century turns out to be a bicentennial treasure that deserves a place in our cultural memory of the era alongside, I don’t know, Born to Run (1975)  and Chinatown (1974).  The plot:  Eh, some business about Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus teaming up to hijack a space station or something?  (Wikipedia’s synopsis runs to 20 paragraphs!)  What’s more important are moments like the one wherein Lois Lane, following a meet-cute with the instantly smitten Peter Parker, claws his girlfriend, MJ, thusly: “Some men like their women feminine.” It was 1976, you guys!

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman No. 1 — the 1941 brainchild of moonlighting Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston — faithfully preserves its author’s undisguised (well, he did use a pen name) freakitude, as when he has Hercules invite a pair of Amazonian princesses back to his tent to “seal the bond of our friendship.”

But Marston got way freakier than just that.  As Les Daniels reported in his invaluable Wonder Woman: The Complete History, Marston’s research at Harvard — much of it conducted via painstaking firsthand observation of sorority parties where new pledges were made to tie one another up or wrestle — contributed to the invention of the polygraph. Awesome, no, since Wonder Woman has that magic lasso that makes the roped party tell the truth?  A few years before he created the Amazonian princess that Lynda Carter was born to play, Marston told the New York Times he expected the United States to become a matriarchy within a century.

Sadly, my attempt to locate a nice jpeg of the cover of Wonder Woman No. 1 failed, but I did find a superb high-rezzie of a later entry in Marston’s literary ouvre, The Private Life of Julius Caesar.

Sorry, what were we talking about?

Ah, the show. Probably you already have a very accurate notion of whether this is for you. But if it helps continuity-obsessed comics fans make an informed ticket purchase, I shall report that the black woman who plays Dr. Octopus is excellent, as is the portly gentleman in the role of Spider-Man and the dude with the fabulous hair who plays Lex Luthor. Oh, and Lois Lane and Wonder Woman are both blondes here, embodied by the lovely Victoria Frings. (I’d identify the other actors, but there were no playbills distributed and the StDP site has only a partial cast list, so sorry.)

The performers have scripts in front of them — that’s what “staged reading” means — and their minimal props and improv-class recreations of the widescreen action sequences from the comics are a predictable source of funny. But it’s their fully committed performances, and the sheer, jaw-dropping weirdness of the source material, that keeps this from getting wearying, though it does runneth slightly over the published duration of 60 minutes, and the Apothecary’s air-conditioning is about as effective as Doc Ock’s ninth — or would that be his fifth? — mechanical arm.

As for the future performances, I’ve not read Mad Love, but the consecutive issues of The Uncanny X-Men slated to close the run are from the title’s early-80s heyday under the stewardship of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. Good stuff, that. And this.

See It If: You’ve ever had a thing for superheroes, or if you’d like to understand someone who does.

Skip It If: You thought The Dark Knight and Watchmen (the film, not the book) failed to treat the costumed-do-gooder genre with the sober reverence it’s due.