Is there a friend you would be willing to die for if they asked you to make this ultimate sacrifice? And in exchange would they be willing to take on all the guilt you carry for people you have hurt and wrongs you have committed? Such questions sound like something out of Dickens or the Bible but they emerged tonight at the Source.
It’s Lonely Out in Space, written by Sean Graney and directed by Patrick Torres, swerves from ridiculous banter to brutal honesty on a trip that is both absurd and enlightening. A cast of four, a simple set, and dialogue: this is theater that is bare-bones and transformative. The unexpected twists in the story are at times bizarre, yet the characters’ predicaments present fundamental human conflicts: what do we learn from the mistakes we make? and is it only by suffering extreme pain and hardship that we change our ways, if then?
The first character on stage is Rocket Man (Danny Gavigan), who enters in a wheelchair. Next is the Bartender (the amusing and quirky Richie Pepio) who tries to convince Rocket Man to move to the other room of the bar, which is modeled after a spaceship with a Control Room and Bridge. Rocket Man bribes the Bartender so he can stay, and soon the woman he is meeting, White White, (Jjana Valentiner) enters. At the end of the first act, the bartender’s girlfriend, Danada (Vanita Kaira) appears. Each performer is invested and intriguing, mixing humor with sincerity in such a way that the darker and grimmer realities that surface are sweetened by lighter moments and witty exchanges.
The script combines grueling stories of accidents and violence with references to popular films like Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and characters in The Empire Strikes Back. The intertwining of a fantasy realm and the physical world suggests that we use the far-fetched images to explain the hard-to-understand things which happen in our lives. Even the setting – a space-age bar – and the recurring phrase “vision quest” keep this idea of alternative realms present.
This theme takes on force in the second act when a bizarre deal is negotiated between Rocket Man and White White. As convoluted as the story becomes, the performance remains relevant and thought-provoking. Some of the lines strike a chord, as when White White says to Rocket Man “Guilt is an important motivator, so don’t absolve yourself yet” or when Rocket Man compares his life to a tree and says “I’m not growing I’m being chopped apart.”
The production reminds me of a basic function of theater: by presenting a fictional place, it offers us a chance to look at human interaction from the perspective of an observer rather than participant. In some cases, this perspective gives us the chance to shift our behavior, allowing us to see cause and outcome, motivation and result.
When I researched the makers of the play, I came across an interview with Patrick Torres where he said “Conflict is essential to drama, and analyzing conflict and characters’ responses to those conflicts teaches us about how to handle a variety of situations. Some of the most rewarding moments in my experience with Young Playwrights’ Theater have been sitting down with a student who has chosen a violent ending to his/her play and challenging them to think of other ways their conflict could be resolved, and watching the student begin to think through and articulate the many options the character has other than resorting to violence. It opens many students to new ways of seeing their world.”
It’s Lonely Out in Space is incredibly effective at setting up a situation that is both strange and familiar. The actors make the characters multidimensional, admirable and even likeable in spite of flaws and weaknesses. I left the theater inspired by the integrity of the cast, and relishing the freshness of the production. Much like This is not a Time Bomb, which I saw Sunday, the work ignites important questions and self-reflection. These two shows are viewable one more time: on July 3 at 4pm It’s Lonely Out in Space will be performed, followed by This is not a Time Bomb at 8pm.
It’s Lonely Out in Space
by Sean Graney
directed by Patrick Torres
produced by Source Festival
reviewed by Kate Mattingly
Source Festival runs thru Saturday, July 3, 2010.
See the DCTS coverage of the festival here.