Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe
House Theater

" Three Stars ..the story is so cool and appealing in "Dave," it was worth making an exception and going back in time. - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 9/24/08

“..a trippy sci-fi riff on grief porn that wrapped its parental mourning in time travel and space fantasy” - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 9/25/08

09/18/08 - 11/08/08

Fri 8p; Sat 5p/Sun 7p; Sat 830p. (Opens 9/21)

Da Vinci a well-chosen step through time - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 9/24/08

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 9/24/08 – “Very few stories about time travel follow their own rules. The moment you stick a time machine in a story, you create not just one altered set of circumstances but infinite variables. Even "Back to the Future," a classic of the go-back-and-fix-it genre, doesn’t really make internal sense. Not if you really analyze it. It can’t handle the full truth”

Here's why I like the House Theatre of Chicago’s self-created story "Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe." It’s a show wherein the time-traveling hero actually knows that every time he goes back or forward in time he sets off a cascade of self-canceling possibilities. It’s a comic book yarn with an emotional hook. Dave DaVinci (necessarily played by two actors, Stephen Taylor and Dennis Watkins) and his wife, Nora (Stacy Stoltz and Carolyn Defrin), want to travel through time to prevent the suicide of their teenage daughter, Perdi (Paige Hoffman), a prodigy who writes science fiction. That’s what makes the story so much more interesting than most: the suicide isn’t just a fixable past event, but an event dependent on time travel itself.

If you’re already sick of this discussion, this probably isn’t your show. This is theater as a graphic novel, a loud, sci-fi show that will give some people a headache even as it excites others.

I saw "Dave" in 2005 when the House first produced it. Three years is a lifetime in House years. This same writing team of Chris Mathews, Jake Minton and Nathan Allen went on to pen "The Sparrow," which some 40,000 people saw last year. In the hope of reaching that audience, House has souped-up "Dave" for a rerun.

The show has improved overall. And if you liked "The Sparrow," you’ll likely enjoy "Dave DaVinci," even through the emotional connection with the latter show is a tad less intense. This time around, the sound effects get too much prominence, sometimes at the expense of the pivotal quieter moments. The way to hook an audience here is to remind them of some horrible event they’d like to change, and the piece hints at that but doesn’t fully develop the idea.

But the acting is deeper this time around, and the storytelling clearer and fuller. Better yet, the stagecraft at the Chopin Theatre (House’s new house) is far more polished. You get an enjoyable, full-on show for your money.

House is changing fast. Overall, I don’t think reprising past shows is the way forward. They no longer fully inhabit those earlier endeavors. But the story is so cool and appealing in "Dave," it was worth making an exception and going back in time.

Dave DaVinci' saves the day with onstage fun at Chopin, Chicago Sun Times 9/26/08

A scientist who invents a time machine is at the center of the plot in Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe, under way at the Chopin Theatre on the Near West Side.

The production, running through Nov. 8, tells the story of the world's most famous scientist, who is working against the clock to invent the only thing that can save his daughter's life and his marriage: a time machine. Presented by the House Theatre of Chicago, the show is a fresh version of an original favorite with new characters, dialogue and design. The cast includes Carolyn Defrin, Paige Hoffman, Joshua Holden, Stacy Stoltz, Stephen Taylor and Dennis Watkins.

Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe

Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 9/25/08 - “In May 2005, a new American play about a highly privileged, highly educated couple grieving the loss of its child made its debut. Actually, two new American plays did. One was Dave DaVinci, a trippy sci-fi riff on grief porn that wrapped its parental mourning in time travel and space fantasy, which remains one of our favorite House spectacles; the other was David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, the straightforward suburban living-room dramedy at South Coast Rep. Now, for its first outing in its new digs at the Chopin, the House has “reimagined” Dave. Oddly enough, the company has reimagined it on Rabbit Hole’s set.

Nothing against scenic designer Collette Pollard, who’s delivered a handsomely appointed, well-constructed, expensive-looking set full of rich wood and fine furnishings. But it’s the polar opposite of her 2005 design, which surrounded the audience with swaths of newspaper clippings describing the DaVinci family’s achievements and centered on two bare, Cerulean-painted walls. The shift from abstraction toward realism seems to highlight the weakest elements of the script; the lushness of the environment provides contrast for how thinly the suicidal motives of daughter Perdi are drawn, and structural plot holes loom larger.

There’s still charm in the central performances of Taylor and Watkins as dueling, time-displaced Daves and Stoltz as the stoic wife, though even they don’t seem as fully invested as the last time. Allen’s direction, too, seems almost perfunctory. The most emotionally devastating moment of discovery in his ’05 staging is abandoned here, presumably because it couldn’t be achieved in a setting this realistic. The House seems to be changing course from boldly scrappy to cautiously straightforward; we hope that doesn’t turn out to be a loss to be grieved.

In its new digs, House stages 'Dave DaVinci'

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 9/19/08 - “When we last saw the House, they were in a different house.

On Sunday night, the House Theatre of Chicago begins the next phase of its existence in new digs at the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park. This company first made its hot-shot reputation at The Viaduct on the North Side—famous for its expansive, fully flexible performance space and a bar in the lobby. Both of those things were an integral part of the initial House experience. And neither is a part of the Chopin experience—although a liquor license is pending. But House’s relationship with The Viaduct, a venue with producing ambitions of its own, is broken.

Hence, itinerancy. Until someone buys the House a new house.

Artistic director Nathan Allen admits that his company is not fully at home in a conventional, proscenium-style theater, but he’s determined to make a go of their friendlier and larger (at 200 seats) new digs. A re-tooled version of “Dave DaVinci Saves the Universe,” first staged at The Viaduct in 2005, opens on Sunday night.

House has been pretty quiet over the summer—the last show closed in the spring. Allen says that the company, which now operates on an annual budget of about $620,000, has been building some much-needed infrastructure. The House went through a spectacular growth spurt since its hit production “The Sparrow” last year. (That show was seen by 40,000 people over three productions; its shows in 2006 were seen by about 6,000 people.) The House now has a full-time production manager, and the busy choreographer and performer Tommy Rapley has a full-time artistic administrator. Marketing efforts have been similarly beefed up.

“This is the first time that we’ve actually been able to put some money away for the development of new work,” Allen says. “We feel like it’s time for us to make good on our promise.”

“Dave DaVinci” is a show about a young time traveler that House has done before. I liked it a great deal in 2005 and would put it in House’s top-three shows to date, behind “The Sparrow” and , maybe, “The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan.” For newer work, Allen’s production of “The Rose and the Rime” is coming in February. That show is from the Hope College Theatre in Michigan and has played in Washington D. C., as part of the American College Theatre Festival.

But Allen argues that this new version of “DaVinci” will be a different beast from its predecessor. The writing team—Allen, Jake Minton and Chris Mathews—is the same trio that created “The Sparrow.” They’ve since been able to come back to this script with a whole new perspective.

“Frankly,” Allen says, “many of the same producers are likely to come and take a look at “Dave DaVinci,” 2.0.

Chris Mathews, Jake Minton and Nathan Allen

Nathan Allen

Stephen Taylor, Dennis Watkins, Stacy Stoltz, Paige Hoffman, Carolyn Defrin, and Joshua Holden

Kevin O'Donnell (Composer); Michael Griggs (Sound Designer); Collette Pollard (Scenic & Properties Designer); Debbie Baer (Costume & Creature Designer); Ben Wilhelm (Light Designer); Michelle Warner (Props Master); Chelsea Meyers (Asst Scenic Designer); Ian Zywica (House Carpenter); Anna Wiencrot (Asst Costume Designer); Jennifer Nguyen (Asst. Costume Designer); Melissa Bochat & Allison Daniel (Creature Construction); Nigel Harsch (Asst Sound Designer); Kirsten Johnson (Sound Technician); Casey Baker (Stage Manager); Miranda Anderson (Stage Manager); Matt Kyle (Wardrobe Supervisor); Brandon Ruiter (Production Intern); Jocelyn Kelvin (Artistic/Production Intern); Dixie Uffleman (Production Manager); Phillip Klapperich (Executive Director); Ryan Butts (Director of Development); Katherin Raz (Marketing & Communications Manager.

Photography by Michael Brosilow.

Tags: Theater, American, 2008