“I stopped him and said, ‘Can I be your assistant?’ ” Power recalls of her chance encounter with Tezuka in a hallway, and her offer of a cookie. “He said, ‘These are really good. But you should finish middle school first.’ ”
That precocious attraction to imaginative inspiration has followed Power into adulthood and her professional theatrical life, as a teacher and performance artist. As an assistant professor of theater at Georgetown University, Power, 38, has been slowly building a Washington résumé, in the realms of stage design (“Metamorphosis”) and direction (“Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven”) after establishing herself as an innovative blender of theater and cartooning in Chicago. And now at last, Power has been given a big platform here for a piece of her own devising, a work tying together her loves of Tezuka and technically novel means of expressing ideas on the stage.
Drawing — quite literally — on her lifelong fascination with manga, Power unveils her world-premiere production “Astro Boy and the God of Comics” in previews beginning Wednesday at Studio Theatre. The piece, written and staged by Power, recounts in reverse, episodic chronology the interlocking biographies of the cartoon sensation Astro Boy and Tezuka, who died in 1989. (Power, to her regret, never had a second opportunity to speak with him.)
Tezuka’s crime-fighting Astro Boy first appeared in comic-book form in Japan in the 1950s, and in the early 1960s became popular in the United States, courtesy of a Japanese cartoon series adapted for English-speaking viewers. In 2009, Astro Boy returned as an animated film.
Among the eight actors are several who are required each night to perform a task rarely undertaken onstage: brandishing thick black markers and sketching cartoons in real time.
The show is an important test of Power’s applicability; although she founded a small Chicago theater collective called Live Action Cartoonists, Studio is a far more “establishment” venue for her art. But if theater is in a feverish search to find enticing ways to absorb and reflect the technologies that consume our time, then Power may be an artist this moment calls for. While her friends say she espouses little interest in public acclaim, they also see in her an ambition that belies the modesty. “Natsu is absolutely the real deal, authentically brilliant, and is going to make a big mark,” observes Tony-winning, Chicago-based director Mary Zimmerman (“Metamorphoses”), her close friend and mentor.