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Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: Sci-fi play has strong script, mediocre acting

Normally, the Adobe theatre is bursting at the seams when they put on shows.

But this time the house was utterly desolate; deader than disco. Dead for an actual science fiction play.

Jerome Bixby wrote for many popular science fiction vehicles during the 20th century, such as episodes of the original series of Star Trek or the Twilight Zone. Most famously, he penned “It’s a Good Life” — the one with the creepy little kid who controls an entire town with his mind and every day is his birthday.

The last thing Bixby ever wrote was a low-budget movie called “The Man From Earth.” The movie’s plot revolves around a bunch of people sitting around in one room while one guy talks about how he’s an original Cro-Magnon man, making him about 14,000 years old.

If this doesn’t immediately excite you as much as it does me, then there’s not much I can really say that’ll sway you.

Ultimately, the strength of the production is the script: it’s sci-fi theatre, for crying out loud. It’s thought-provoking and damned fascinating.

Plus, the setting is so straightforward; it was begging to be adapted for the stage. Good on Richard Schenkman for thinking of it.

The production is by no means perfect, and many of the performances are mediocre at best. There are missed character beats, lines are flubbed, and the attempt at background banter is constant, distracting and atrocious.

But I will be the first to admit that I’m biased as hell when it comes to science fiction, so I implore you to support this little underdog of a risky project regardless.

One interesting bit for the particular performance I saw was that the titular character and 14,000-year-old protagonist, John, was played by the director, Ned Record. The play is mostly John talking and the other characters occasionally interjecting with shock or exclamations, but not much else.

It would have been wonderful to see Matthew Van Wettering, a fantastic local actor, play the role he was cast. Perhaps I’ll go back just to see.

Record’s performance is admirable considering he’s a stand-in, selling much of John’s matter-of-fact blasé with believable honesty. The more dramatic moments, however, thud roughly into melodrama and excessive telegraphing — a bit like a violent piece of mime.

This was not uncommon throughout the cast.

The script is unfortunately a bit too male-centric, with the “great men of science” taking the intellectual high ground.

The presence of female characters like Linda (played by Adrienne Cox) or Sandy (Rachel Haskett) are confused and mostly worthless. It was unclear if they were just grad students who the professors were banging on the side, because their characters donated practically nothing to the ongoing discussion.

Perhaps it was the weakness of the writing of their characters, but both performances were largely grating.

Heather Lovick-Tolley played Edith, the token upset Christian. Lovick-Tolley’s performance is also somewhat confused, having occasional beautiful moments of character honesty scattered throughout a wash of hammy weirdness.

Elaine Beckett, who plays as the ‘Moving Person,’ really allows her character to appear. In a display of the most bizarre, stagy attempts at overacting and physical comedy I have ever seen, Beckett nearly single-handedly destroyed the production in a holocaust of wordless grunts and eye-bulges.

Thank Christ for Jim Cady brilliantly stepping in as Dr. Will Gruber for a shattering one-liner that told us it was all going to be okay.

What else do you want me to say? It’s science fiction. On stage. Go see it, dammit.

Graham Gentz is a freelance play reviewer at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com.