Cross the Shifting Sands

L. Frank Baum is the creator of one the most well-known fantasy worlds in literature, though his name is perhaps less famous. Maybe because his Oz books are best known via the musical adaptation, or maybe because he is much older than Tolkien, Rowling or Lewis. Either way, Cross the Shifting Sands intends to change that.

Some journeys – like Cross the Shifting Sands – are worth taking, even with the rough bits. Follow that road, Dorothy.

A one-man show, starring the author himself (as played by Jake Addley), it guides the audience through the tale of the author’s life and inspiration. A new piece by Addley and Mark King, the prose is beautiful. As befits a famous wordsmith, the descriptions bring life to his tale even at the most normal moments. Details like the way grass imprints on bare skin really bring his character into our reality.

And then he actually does step into our reality. This is, to an extent, an immersive piece, and Addley does break the barrier between the audience and stage on a few cherished occasions. It works because it is rare. Walking forward to take a seat among the audience draws attention primarily because it hadn’t happened before. When it did, I was gripped entirely.

That patience and frugality are virtues that extend to the play’s other elements. For instance, Baum slips into memories of his parents, or impersonations of his characters, but only in brief, satisfying moments. Or, there are moments when memories transform themselves into bits of prose from his not-yet written book. For example, a fire that burned his house and his cherished writings inspires the Scarecrow and his equation of fire and death. Incorporating these kinds of techniques ties the plot together nicely and gives the earlier bits a sense of relevance to the future.

That’s important, because the play’s biggest flaw is its slow start. Addley dramatically describes growing up as an outsider and a daydreamer, and the consequences that provoked from his fearful father. But this bore little weight with me, because it sounded like many origin stories I’d read before, including that of Spiderman. The show’s early stages set up a powerful ending, but in those early moment, the show is decidedly weak.

All of us, Baum says, follow a road through life (perhaps of yellow bricks). But some parts of that road are more interesting than others. There are parts with roses, and nice grass, which is okay, but there are also parts with flying monkeys and tin men and evil (but conquerable) witches. Still, some journeys – like Cross the Shifting Sands – are worth taking, even with the rough bits. Follow that road, Dorothy. 

Reviews by Bennett Bonci

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The Blurb

L Frank Baum is perhaps one of the most famous authors of all time. His stories are told the world over, but what do we know about the man who gave us the gift of Oz? A childhood plagued by solitude, loss and loneliness ignited the most wonderful imagination, sparking what was to become a lifelong passion... obsession. He created a special, intricately detailed place in his mind, a place beyond the rainbow where he could forget about his troubles, and he chose to share it with the world. Come, delve into Baum's imagination...