Warp!, also spelled Warp, was an American science-fiction play created at Chicago, Illinois' Organic Theatre Company in 1971 by co-authors Stuart Gordon and Lenny Kleinfeld, the latter under the pseudonym Bury St. Edmund. The play moved to Broadway for a short run in February 1973. The play and its backstory became the basis for spinoff comic books and other media.
David Carson, an everyday bank teller, learns that he is Lord Cumulus, "avenger of the universe". Suddenly transported from an annual employee-awards dinner to the mystical realm Fen-Ra, he finds himself battling for the destiny of the universe against antagonist Prince Chaos. In this world, he encounters the sage Lugulbanda who sends him on his quest aided by the leather-clad Amazon warrior Sargon. They battle Valaria the insect sorceress and Chaos' henchman, the purple ape Symax.
Chicago's Organic Theater Company opened the original play Warp! in 1971. Co-author Stuart Gordon in 2002 recalled its original inspiration: "It was three full-length plays that were inspired by Marvel Comics. ... Well, we weren't able to get the rights to any of the characters from Marvel, so we created our own. But I would say that Warp was very influenced by comic books like Dr. Strange and Thor". Billed by the company as "the world's first science fiction epic-adventure play in serial form", it was performed for over a year before moving to Broadway.
The Chicago cast included John Heard, André De Shields, Cecil O'Neal, J. Pat Miller, and Bruce A. Young. The costume designer was first-timer Cookie Gluck, a former art major at the University of Wisconsin who was married to actor O'Neal. The lighting designer was David K.H. Elliott.
Move to Broadway
The production moved to New York City's Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, where part one of the trilogy, My Battlefield, My Body, ran seven previews beginning January 31, 1973, and eight performances from February 14–18, 1973. It marked the Broadway debut of John Heard, who played David Carson/Lord Cumulus. Other cast-members included Tom Towles as Prince Chaos, and Keith Szarabajka as the young David.
The Broadway production was produced by Anthony D'Amato in association with the Organic Theatre Company, and directed by co-writer Stuart Gordon. Comic-book and commercial artist Neal Adams was art director, with scenic design by Robert Guerra, costume design by Laura Crow and Cookie Gluck; lighting design by Jane Reisman and Neil Peter Jampolis; and visuals by Khamphalous Lightshow. William J. Norris and Richard Fire provided incidental music, with the latter also providing vocal sound effects. Frank Marino and Lynne Guerra were stage managers.
The opening-night cast:
- André De Shields ... Desi Arnez
- Cordis Fejer ... Penny Smart; Sargon
- Jane Fire ... Sheila Fantastik
- Richard Fire ... Mrs. O'Grady; psychiatric director; bank teller; Lugulbanda; Yggthion
- Carolyn Gordon ... Mary Louise; Valaria
- John Heard ... David Carson; Lord Cumulus
- William J. Norris ... Bank president; Dr. Victor Vivian; Symax
- Keith Szarabajka ... Attendant; young David Carson
- Tom Towles ... Janitor; Prince Chaos
Clive Barnes of The New York Times said, "The look of the show is extremely accurate," in terms of fidelity to comics. "The costumes — minimal and exotic — the outlandish props and the serviceably suggestive permanent setting are all perfectly in accord. The language is heightened melodrama having the same fleeting relationship to literature that bubble gum has to food." While saying, "There is a great deal of action but no story," he admired the acting. He allowed that "for comic-book addicts ... Warp might well be a lot of fun. Others are warned that, while it is undeniably cleverly done, it is at heart a one-joke evening."
- Laura Crow, Cookie Gluck: 1973 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Costume Design
- David K.H. Elliott, lighting designer: 1979 Joseph Jefferson Award for the Organic Theater's Warp
In other media
The premiere issue featured a 20-page Lord Cumulus story by writer Peter B. Gillis, penciler and cover artist Frank Brunner, and inker Bob Smith; and an eight-page story starring Sargon, Mistress of War, by writer John Ostrander, penciler Lenin Delsol, and inker Joe Staton. Brunner would continue as penciler through issue #9, after which he was succeeded by Jerry Bingham except for two issues, #16 (penciled by Bill Willingham) and #19 (penciled and inked by Mike Gustovich, the regular inker for most of the series' run). The backup features rotated among "Sargon, Mistress of War" by Ostrander, Delsol and Staon; "The Faceless Ones", by writer Jack C. Harris and artist Steve Ditko; "Valaria, Insect Sorceress", by writer Gillis, penciler Willingham, and inker Bruce Patterson; and "Outrider", by Gillis and various artists.
Previous to these, the Organic Theater Company and Mike Gold Media Services published a one-shot, 16-page promotional-giveaway comic book, Weird Organic Tales #1 (1981), that included scenes from several of the theater company's works, including Warp!.
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- Alterman, Glenn. An Actor's Guide: Making It in New York City (Allworth Press, 2002), Chapter 28: "The Nontraditional Casting Project: Interview with André De Shields", p. 223. ISBN 978-1-58115-213-5
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- "Faculty Biography: Firespark! > Bruce A. Young". Brenau Academy/Brenau University theater program. Archived from the original on June 7, 2010.
- "David K.H. Elliott, Lecturer". University of California Berkeley Dept. of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies. Archived from the original on June 7, 2010.
- "Anda Korsts". (Excerpt of 1970s biographical article) Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation. Archived from the original on June 7, 2010.
- Warp at the Internet Broadway Database
- Warp (1983 series) at the Grand Comics Database
- Warp Special at the Grand Comics Database
- Scott Shaw!'s Oddball Comics #502: "Weird Organic Tales No. 1", March 6, 2002
- Williams, Albert. "Back to School 2007: Our Favorite Things: Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater", Chicago Reader, 2007, n.d. Retrieved September 6, 2009. WebCitation archive.