Review: ‘A Billion Nights on Earth’ at FringeArts

Thaddeus Phillips’ and Steven Dufala’s spectacularly enjoyable, glowing world of far out, fantastical adventure unfolds and forms like theatrical origami within the FringeArts black box theater. Stemming from a simple story line where a boy named Winslow (Winslow Fegley) cannot get to sleep, scenes progress surreally as from a child’s imagination, or a dream state, folding into each other to reform the next step of the story in conjunction with an ingeniously nimble set, engineered by Efren Delgadillio Jr.

Michael Fegley and Winslow Fegley. Photo by Johanna Austin.
Michael Fegley and Winslow Fegley. Photo by Johanna Austin.

Winslow’s father (Michael Fegley), an architect, repeatedly interrupts his late night’s drafting in an effort to get his son back into bed. Both are tired, but both, for different reasons, are resisting sleep. Dad must get his work done, and Winslow cannot fall asleep without his beloved stuffed whale named ‘Whale.’ Neither the stuffed penguin nor the squirrel will do the job, so Winslow determinedly sets his sights on finding his whale. While grabbing some milk, the boy follows whale song through the fog-filled refrigerator, which turns out to be a portal to another realm filled with possibilities. Meanwhile, Dad microwaves his cold coffee once again as Winslow begins his whale tracking journey in an arctic zone, carrying a huge Chinese food carton strapped to his back. Father and son are soon reunited, however, via the mystic fridge, in a place where ordinary objects and toys amazingly change shapes and states, and where travel any where in the universe is just a transcendental thought away.

Real-life father and son Michael and Winslow Fegley are spellbinding to watch, both dressed in matching blue and white striped pajamas by Costumer Jan Avramov, as they revel in charming role reversal during their way-out Whale expedition. Directed by Thaddeus Phillips and co-designed by Phillips and Steven Dufala, the carefully choreographed, stylized movement adds much to the sense of otherworldliness. The first bit of action on stage is that of the extraordinarily gifted younger Fegley opening window shutters in crisp, clear, one-two motion, thereby establishing the overall tonality of the show. David Todaro’s lighting design brilliantly illuminates the imaginary settings, and pop against the black backdrop. Juan Gabriel Turbay’s music is redolent of the movies, and sublimely tuned to the action on stage.

The set also changes shape and size. It is incredibly flexible, tractable and adaptable, dovetailing succinctly to each evolving scene. The tilted drafting table and coffee cup; light and sound serving as a microwave oven; Michael Fegley’s facial expressions as an exasperated but loving dad; a rocket launch; ninja stagehands; fog that plays multiple roles (atmosphere, ocean, etc.); a music-producing campfire, and giant inflatables are just a few of the many spectacular facets featured. This entire production is an exceptionally splendid convergence of acting and technical expertise, sure to delight and inspire: if you can dream it, you can achieve it.

A Billion Nights on Earth is a rare theatrical treat to experience and cherish for a long, long time.

Running Time: 50 minutes, with no intermission.

Michael Fegley and Winslow Fegley. Photo by Johanna Austin.
Michael Fegley and Winslow Fegley. Photo by Johanna Austin.

A Billion Nights on Earth played through December 17, 2017 at FringeArts – 140 North Columbus Boulevard, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets to future FringeArts shows, call the box office at (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.