Posted by: strugglesome | September 13, 2011

Lost In Space: The Groundswell Players Present: The Speed Of Surprise

Science fiction is a genre that is both loved and scorned. For every Ray Bradbury there is a Deep Space Nine, for every Star Wars there is a Babylon 5, and so on and so forth. And don’t even get me started on the modern Battlestar Galactica versus the original, I don’t want to get upset. So any piece of theater that discusses and/or satirizes this genre (can you really do one without the other) has the advantage of plentiful source material from which to draw, but the disadvantage of having huge nerds (i.e. myself) in the audience to point out inconsistencies in the references and complain about why R2-D2 looks more like a Dalek then anything else. It’s a problem of too much familiarity, there are just too many references to make! And so instead of becoming specified, people become more and more general, until aliens, light years, planets and spaceships all melt into a muddled mass of nondescript Sci-Fi stuff, all vaguely connected and rather over done. And that is the problem that The Groundswell Players run into with their spirited but saggy The Speed of Surprise, a 50 minute spoof on every Sci Fi reference in general and nothing really in particular.

Presented by the four major players, as it were, Alison King, Scott Sheppard, Jack Meany and Jesse Paulsen, the play, created by this quartet, was directed by clown-extrodinare Charlotte Ford which is suprising, given how lacking this piece is in physical comedy. The setting? Some spaceship, somewhere, somehow, in a galaxy far far away. The cast of characters? A fairly predictable group consisting of Barbarella style bombshell/sexy Alien/spy, Dyanne (King), strong jawed completely oblivious Captain Riley (Meaney), goofy brilliant but ignored Alien engineer Girk (Paulsen) and abused intern Bernard (Sheppard). Together they zoom through the galaxy, rescuing tiny green princesses and making the universe safe for, well, I’m not exactly sure what government we will have in the distant future but whatever it is, I’m sure it’s going to be worth defending.  So the subject matter is clear, as is the desire to mock it, even if it’s rather listlessly done. But what exactly is being mocked here? Because there doesn’t seem to be any decision made about which show, movie, franchise or cult classic it’s really interested in exploring/exploiting. And so it becomes bland with indecision rather than flavorful with variety. But if this piece had to pick a cuisine,  it’s got a  bit of Star Trek flavor dominating the palette (really pushing this metaphor as far as it can go…). The arrogant captain, the flirty sexy alien, the puppets (a stand up job by David Harvester) the disaster uncoiling into absurdity, all it needs is matching uniforms and that vintage film look and I would be looking for Spock. Spock would have been awesome.

Though each performer displays decent and at times dryly comic performances, the real stars of the show are the design team. Set designer Evan Leigh has created a command center worthy of Admiral Adama, with clean grey walls, glowing milk crates imitating “space lights” and gloriously archaic vintage technology haunting the room. Katherine Fitz’s colorful and clever costume design outfits the cast in skin-tight shiny spandex, giving the audience a gallery of camel toe to peruse at our leisure, and space suits worthy of the Deep Space 9 crew. Dom Chacon’s lighting design glitters and glows while Louis Jargow’s soundscape neatly echos 1960’s theme songs without feeling too kitschy or quaint.

Where the piece succeeds is in a most unexpected respect, and that is, it beautifully demonstrates just how annoying people become when you are stuck in a small metal contraption with them for weeks on end. The four characters depicted by the company clearly abhor each other, their frustration has distilled into latent long-term resentment that displays itself in eye rolls and muttered comments. It’s honestly the most amusing aspect of the show, just how much these people do not want to be stuck in a room together but have no possible alternative. Moreover, this production also confronts the difficulty of exposition in Science Fiction. Because a television series might go on for years at a time and storylines can be taken up and thrown off like clothing, the audience has to be constantly reminded of when and where we are and what is actually happening. The grimace each cast member stifles before explaining about the task at hand or the universe in which we are is as funny as it is accurate, I mean, how bored must William Shatner have gotten taping each episode? Thank goodness for “previously on”, is all I can say.

The Groundswell Players have finished their run of The Speed Of Surprise but they will no doubt be cooking up something else for you as soon as they get back from exporing the cosmos. Check out more about them here.

Comments? Questions? Concerns? I welcome them all! Please feel free to comment below!

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