When we (and our grandparents’ grandparents) were children we dreamed of going to the Moon, shot perhaps from an enormous precise gun and flying a quarter million miles in a speeding bullet to a place where we could leap tall mountains in a single bound (we weighed only a sixth as much on the Moon as we did on Earth, after all) and do battle with the mysterious Moon creatures we found there. Those of us who are dogs (and I know some of you are) would howl at the moon with hunger and lusty greed, and love its creamy countenance, so cool and distant and sweet.
And then we (and our grandparents’ grandparents) grow up and learn to take our magic where we find it, whether in art or music or dance or storytelling, and so read Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon” or watch “A Trip to the Moon” by the great silent film artist Georges Méliès (you may have seen him played by Ben Kingsley in the Scorsese film “Hugo”) or go to Synetic’s A Trip to the Moon, for the art and music and dance and storytelling.
And when we do, we see Méliès’ film reenacted with live actors interacting with an animated background which is at once cartoonish and so realistic and so well coordinated with the actors that it seems alive, too. This is a signature of director Natsu Odono Power, who appears in the program with a Moon helmet on her head and whose unique brand of illustrated storytelling is here somehow merged with Synetic’s unique brand of storytelling through movement.
They give us the high points of Méliès’ story, which is itself the high points of Verne’s novel. The President of the Academy (Zana Gankhuyag) convenes a coterie of scientists, who submit competing designs for a Moon rocket.
The winning design is a great big gun which shoots a bullet into the moon; the President and his fellow astronauts (Ben Arden, Victoria Bertocci and Pasquale Guiducci) ride inside the bullet. When they land they are captured by the skeletal Selenites, but they beat up the Selenite King (Renata Veberyte Loman) and run like hell until they reach their bullet and, once inside, fall their way back to Earth.
This story is intercut with two other stories: an ancient tale (narrated by James Konicek) about an elderly bamboo cutter (Colin Analco) who finds a tiny child inside a hollow bamboo. He takes her home and she grows up to be a beautiful princess (Katrina Clark). She is swamped by suitors but rejects them all, at last sending them on impossible tasks as a way of evading their attentions. At last she reveals to her stepfather the true reason for rejecting the men who profess to love her: she was born on the Moon, and to the Moon she must return – and despite the best efforts of the old man, to the Moon she does return.
The third story is taken from close to real life, and close to the present day. It is the story of Laika (Karen O’Connell), the stray dog who in a cruel and scientifically pointless experiment the Soviets stuffed into their Sputnik-2 satellite, which burned up as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. In this version of the story, Laika is a dog in love with the Moon, which she imagines is layered with soft luscious cheese and inhabited by Moondoggies. In Laika’s dream she is on the Moon, watching from an enormous wedge of Swiss as she watches the Moon Dog God (Arden) loom over her lusty mother (Francesca Jandasek), and smother her with his love, so that Laika knows her own origins. Later, trapped in a capsule so small she cannot turn around in it, Laika hopes during each orbital passage that the Moon will be her destination. Go here to see what she got.
For those of us lucky enough to live through the sixties and early seventies, when man not only walked on the Moon but golfed on it, everything seemed possible, limited only by our imaginations. The collapse of the Soviet Union, coupled with our own budget woes, has distracted us from our need to spread to the stars. But there is no stopping the human imagination, or impulse to innovate. If you doubt me, see this show.
A Trip to the Moon
Closes January 6, 2013
1800 S. Bell Street
Arlington, VA 22202
1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Power makes fantastic animated backdrops against which the actors work; and she has the actors rapidly sketch designs on top of them – another Power signature – at one point creating a Japanese watercolor landscape so evocative and beautiful that it seems like a form of instant art. And Synetic so masters movement, and the illusion of movement (the astronauts running to their capsule seem like Olympic sprinters, but they aren’t moving an inch), that I bet that if choreographer Irini Tsikurishvili was on the Sputnik-2 team, she’d have had Laika not only turning around but tap-dancing, with a bowler hat and cane.
The space program had failures – some of them spectacular and tragic – and not everything works here, either. The story of the Japanese princess is a little andante at parts – so much so that a fellow audience member drifted off to his own private dreamland during it. The show has difficulty finding a balance in volume between the music and Guy Spielmann’s narration at the beginning, to the disadvantage of the narration. And some of the actors in the Méliès’ story exaggerate themselves – in imitation of the film, I suppose – so much that it approaches mugging. I understand the rationale, but it does not enhance the experience.
But the strength of this show is imagination, innovation, craft, creativity and its attendant joys, and for such a thing we should be prepared to accept temporary setbacks. We are unmoored from space for a while, but the human spirit is not earthbound.
“Earth is the cradle of the mind,” said the scientist and poet Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky.
“But one cannot eternally live in a cradle.”
A Trip to the Moon, . written, directed and illustrated by Natsu Onoda Power, choreographed by Irini Tsikurishvili, produced by Synetic Theater. Featuring Colin Analco, Ben Arden, Victoria Bertocci, Katrina Clark, Zana Gankhuyag, Pasquale Guiducci, Francesca Jandasek, Karen O’Connell and Renata Veberyte Loman, with additional voiceover work by Loman, James Konicek, Ula Louise Olson and Guy Spielmann. Set design by Giorgos Tsappas; costume design by Kendra Rai; lighting design by Andrew F. Griffin; projections design by Jared Mezzocchi; props design by Suzanne Maloney. Konstantine Lortkipanidze provided original music. Marley Monk is the stage manager and Amy Kellett is the production manager.
Jenn Larsen . WeLoveDC
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Peter Marks . Washington Post
Gwendolyn Purdom . Washingtonian
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld
Jayne Coyne . DCMetroTheaterArts