by Gina Luna
- The Capitol Hill Times -
I’m not the only childless adult who enjoys productions intended for children, right? Saturday morning cartoons, animated films, that sort of thing. And, yeah, I’m embarrassed by how much I enjoyed Disney’s recent film “Frozen.” But, to be fair, a lot of the jokes slipped into these “kid” shows are only understood by adults, which makes for something special and rare: entertainment that can be enjoyed by everyone. “The Icelandic Illumination Rangers” written, directed, and acted by Ali el-Gasseir and Jonah Von Spreecken, is exactly that.
The play follows two Icelandic tour guides on their quest to find the suddenly missing Northern Lights. Each of the guides wants to lead and maintains a different version of what is required to make the lights return, but they learn that only through using their unique gifts and working together can the task be accomplished.
Each show incorporates a guest performer, minor audience participation, plus take-home lessons like “don’t have a conflict, just give a compliment,” and “it’s okay to talk to rangers, not strangers.” Afterward, the actors sit down criss-cross applesauce and take questions.
The duo got an idea for a kids’ show while doing fringe theater together at Washington Ensemble Theater. They spent a lot of time together backstage and realized that they had similar interests and senses of humor. Before then, Von Spreecken had been writing his own pieces of theater for a few years; he asked el-Gasseir if he wanted to collaborate.
“I pitched the idea of wanting to do a show with recycling bins and having opening moment be two people dressed up as samurai raccoons hopping out of bins,” Von Spreecken told The Capitol Hill Times. “And that’s what I think got [Ali] rolling with, ‘Well, that sounds like it could be a good kid show.’ That’s something that you don’t see in a lot of fringe theaters around Seattle.”
“Also, I love the idea of Saturday- and Sunday-morning theater. We both grew up waking up on Saturday mornings and being like, ‘Saturday morning cartoons! Saturday morning cartoons!’ And they were awesome, and it’s not so much that way anymore because there are cartoons all of the time; you have Cartoon Network, so it doesn’t have that special feeling. We wanted to recapture that,” el-Gasseir said.
In writing the play, the two spent a lot of time watching cartoons from Netflix, like “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe,” “Scooby
Doo” and “Looney Toons.” el-Gasseir said that the two are fans of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” an animated kids TV show, and “The Mighty Boosh.”
“Our show is very deeply in homage to that show. As well as “Luxury Comedy.” There’s a lot of classic comedy team stuff, too, buddy teams.”
And “The Icelandic Illumination Rangers” isn’t their first success. It’s their third. In two years. Each of their shows introduces a new country and culture: Japan in their first play, “Urban Tanuki Samurai,” and French-Canada in their second, “Number 2 Quebecois Robot Detective Agency.”
Why Iceland for this one?
“It has a lot to do with what we think is cool at the time, and Reykjavik kept being discussed,” el-Gasseir said. “Reykjavik is the sister city to Seattle, I believe, with Airwaves festival, and things like that.”
Though the location was decided early on, they didn’t start writing the script for “The Icelandic Illumination Rangers” until November of last year, and the show went through around 17 different incarnations before arriving at the version seen onstage. And all without an outside director.
“We have a design team, and sometimes we have outside eyes come in and take a look,” el-Gasseir said. “Sometimes I think that we should have a director.”
Von Spreecken agreed: “There are things that are totally in our head, but because we can’t jump out in the audience and see what they look like, it would be good to have someone just say something like ‘Clean that up,’ or ‘That’s great, but maybe you should…’ Little things like that.”
What’s next for el-Gasseir and Von Spreecken? Though they’re unsure as to what, they’re already talking about what all-ages show they’ll do in 2015. Maybe they’ll write a two-woman show; maybe they’ll remount one of their older ones.
Until then, “The Icelandic Illumination Rangers” will continue showing Saturday and Sunday mornings through Feb. 23 at Washington Ensemble Theater, and one more late-night, adult version on Feb. 21. Go see this show. Bring every kid that you know. You’ll laugh and open-mouth smile from start to close, and feel that you got your money’s worth as soon as you catch sight of el-Gasseir and Von Spreecken’s fur-rimmed boots.
Tickets cost $5 for kids under 12 years of age, and $10 for adults. Washington Ensemble Theater is located at 608 19th Avenue East (conveniently close to Hello Robin, the new cookie shop located one block down).