Review: “Ditko” at Theaterlab by OuterStage lead writer, Anthony J. Piccione
Over the past few weeks, various writers in the media have compared comic book characters to those of William Shakespeare, the implication being that various interpretations of the character of the Joker (such as that in the upcoming film) are like various interpretations throughout history of Hamlet or Macbeth. Yet the comic book/Shakespeare similarities run deeper than that, as in both cases, there are stories about there of how the true artists behind various works didn’t get the full credit they deserve.
It is this story that lies at the heart of Ditko, the new autobiographical play by acclaimed Rhode Island-bad writer/director Lenny Schwartz, which tells the story of the lesser-known co-creator of some of Marvel’s most beloved characters, such as Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
Over the course of the play, we see the rise of Steve Ditko – as portrayed by Derek Laurendeau – from being that of an young illustrator admiring the creators of Batman to being the man who successfully pushed the likes of Stan Lee to go forward with his ideas for their own superhero stories…only to have nearly all the credit for their creation stolen, and to be reduced to the sidelines while Lee continues to promote himself as if he were the sole creator.
Part of it is seemingly his own fault, as evidenced by his uncompromising nature that is influenced by his extreme Objectivist philosophy, which he unsuccessful insisted be included in the stories of his characters. Yet regardless of how one might feel about his philosophical views, which he tried to push into Marvel comics, it’s still hard to come away from this play without feeling some sympathy for a man who doesn’t seem to get as much respect as he deserve for the creation of such beloved characters. Indeed, it is very telling that it was Sam Raini – not Stan Lee – who insisted that Mr. Ditko’s name be included as a co-creator of Spider-Man in the credits of the original film trilogy, as the play notes.
The cast of this show, primarily consisting of Rhode Island-based actors, mostly bring talent and charisma to their respective roles. Geoff White stands out as doing a particularly spot-on caricature of Stan Lee, complete with his signature mustache and sunglasses. I was also impressed with the comedic delivery of Chris Ferreira, who portrayed the three varying roles of an Army Sergeant that Steve served under, his colleague Dick, and legendary comic book artist Jerry Robinson.
Staged in the intimate space at Theaterlab, the production value is relatively minimalistic, aside from two desks and various drawings brought onstage. Given that this is a very character-driven piece, this is hardly relevant, although there is one potential area for improvement in the show, in terms of lighting. The concept of having characters rotate from narration to conversation at various points in the script is a good one, however, the production could have potentially benefited from a lighting design that more clearly distinguished each of these moments for the audience.
Nonetheless, the play itself is both entertaining and thought-provoking, and tells a compelling story of the creative process, personal integrity, and the fight over one’s intellectual property. While comic book fans are especially likely to enjoy it, given the subject matter, it’s also a story that ALL creative types – on some level or another – are bound to sympathize with.
“Ditko” stars Samantha Acampora, Dave Almeida, Anne Bowman, Mindy Britto, Jonah Coppolelli, Timothy DeLisle, Chris Ferreira, Emily Lamarre, Derek Laurendeau, Nicholas Tvaroha, Geoff White & Bob Wiacek.
“Ditko” is written and directed by Lenny Schwartz, featuring stage manager Lauren Arneson, house manager Daniel Martin, creative consultant Sara Hutchings-Schwartz, costume design by Mindy Britto and Sara Hutchings-Schwartz, and press representation courtesy of Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment.
“Ditko” – presented by Daydream Theater Company – runs at Theaterlab, located at 357 W 36th Street, New York, NY, on October 1st and 2nd at 7:30pm.