Posted by: strugglesome | September 15, 2010

I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello: Aggrocrag’s music soaked Hello from the Children of Planet Earth

It’s a tricky thing to pick the name of a new theater company. If it’s too obvious people will groan when they see it. If it’s too obscure people will deride you for your pretension. If it’s too bland no one will care. It’s hard to find a middle ground on this issue, which is why so many people just give up and go to law school rather then force the issue. But Aggrocrag, a New York based NYC-Tish bred theatre company, hasn’t thrown in the towel just yet. The Urban Dictionary (i.e. my new best friend) defines an Aggrocrag as ” a treacherous mountain with many obstacles such as falling boulders and snow which 3 challengers had to face as the last event of the nick show GUTS!”. Okay, so I suppose this group might have erred on the side of obscure, but no one could call it precisely pretensions. Silly? Yes. Immature? A little. Adorable? Most definitely. And with these adjectives I also happen to be describing Aggrocrag’s new work (and first professional offering) premiering at this year’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival,  Hello from the Children of Planet Earth, an original piece conceived and directed by Max Reuben.

A three tiered love letter to the universe, the story explores a triad of relationships. The first is a captivating bromance between newly minted astronauts Beamer (the sickeningly endearing Benj Mirman, you just itch to give this guy a hug, it’s disgusting) and Davis (a charming Jon Herman who must be channeling Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and, frankly, it works), who hang above the action like NASA designated angels. Riffing on life, the universe and everything, singing songs (are there really people out there who don’t like Bridge Over Troubled Water?) talking about the wonders of space travel and the wonders of earth, Davis and Beamer are virtually the perfect couple. Their one fight erupts as a result of their deep attachment to each to each other, and their reconciliation is a relief to the audience. While another review I looked at speculated as to how deep their man-love reaches, I honestly don’t think that there is a sexual overtone to their interactions, but rather just the need to be close to someone else, to share the universe with someone else. An especially well written moment is a back and forth between Davis and Beamer describing the taking off of a space ship, a description that glows with the extraordinary nature of the event itself, and captures the process of trying to relate the most exhilarating moments of human experience.

The second plot concerns the “talk nerdy to me” courtship between scientists Dr. Annie (a very cute Nicole Weiss) and Dr. Carl (Andrew Farmer).  While Weiss is clearly not without talent, in this piece she has to act as the straight man/love interest to foil the astoundingly excellent Farmer, who, frankly, must be playing  Reuben’s secret love, because Dr. Carl is the best written character of the show. (You can always tell who is best loved by the playwright because they get to say lines like “I sometimes have a hard time delineating what are normal things to say and what are things a serial killer might say.”) Weiss and Farmer play a scientific team who has created a message for the rest of the cosmos informing whoever is out there about Earth and it’s inhabitants. ( Now, it should be noted that the last show I saw in this same space, that is, Underground Arts at the Wolf Building, was SwimPony’s Survive, which literally had the EXACT SAME PREMISE, but a completely different execution. I’m not saying Reuben and Aggrocrag appropriated the plot line from SwimPony or vice versa, it’s just rather amazing how art forms points on convergence across state lines.) In their continued work together, Farmer as Dr. Carl and Weiss as Dr. Annie voice two different perspectives on the science of space exploration, Dr. Annie describes the romance of their work, the great and lofty goals of space exploration, while Dr. Carl is consumed with the technicality of their task, the probabilities, the realities. The final consummation of their romances at the end of the piece is an appropriate one, predictable but also rather perfect.

Not quite so lucky is the third paring of the play, Astronaut Tom (a bland Alex Fast) and his wife Claire (the attractive but grating Nicole Balsam). Of the three plotlines, the interactions between Tom, who has been chosen as the astronaut to carry into space news of humanity’s existence to send out into the cosmos, and his clingy wife Claire, who doesn’t want him to go, feel like the least mature writing of the play. Tom is distant, Claire is needy, no one is happy, and it’s not a joy to watch. One question that came to mind as I observed Claire’s distress and passive aggression was, how did she not see this coming? I mean, the guy is an astronaut, sooner or later he was going to go into space, right? Well, as my seat mate murmured during one of Balsam’s speeches, the lesson is that Co-dependent girls shouldn’t date astronauts. The escalating arguments between the pair, portrayed in a clunky video calling format, represent the “distance” between them as Tom travels through space and Claire stays rooted on the ground, with obvious exchanges like:

Tom: I miss you more then anything in the whole earth!

Claire: Yes, but not in the whole universe!

The dialog between Tom and Claire make me wonder if Reuben was somehow ease-dropping when my freshman year boyfriend broke up with me, and while the final moments of their relationship (coinciding with the end of the play) are sweet and beautifully written, it doesn’t salvage everything that comes before.  But despite the flaws, Reuben’s work as a playwright and director has both a style and a substance that make it interesting, and his cast is, for the most part, an energetic and talented group of young artists. The play is also beautifully scored, with music played live by Mike Brun and Miriam Miller, and the final song, a slight re-write of The Magnetic Fields I’ll Have The Moon , is lovingly sang and lovely. Silly, yes, immature, maybe a bit, adorable, absolutely.

Aggrocrag might just become one of the many things I love about earth. If you want to see the other things worth loving about earth, or you like a good bromance, or sexy scientists float your boat, you can pick up tickets here. Hello From the Children of Planet Earth runs in Philadelphia until the end of the festival, Saturday the 18th of September.


  1. […] the New York based theater company Aggrocrag (whose Philadelphia Fringe Festival piece I reviewed here) has had a stroke of astonishing luck, because not only did he find people to perform his new […]

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