For your consideration: An evening of theatre with echoes of “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek.” And if you look closely, you also might find glimmers of Waiting for Godot. The thespians playing out these staged science-fictional forays possess keen intellect and the chameleon-like abilities to transform into all manner of characters, human or otherwise.
The signpost up ahead indicates you could only be in one place: You have just entered the Lumina Zone.
Welcome to Invasion of the Surreal Plays by David Minton, the latest in a series of non-traditional theatre pieces presented by the Lumina Ensemble.
In case Lumina does not ring a bell, its mission of to provide actors of all ages and levels of experience a disciplined and rigorous professional setting in which to train and perform Shakespeare, and works from other genres. Throughout the year, the young ensemble members get thorough training in all aspects of theatre. The company performs at Round House Theatre’s EducationCenter in Silver Spring.
When theatre takes you to unexpected places, the experience can be thrilling, trippy, challenging, and even hilarious. Invasion of the Surreal Plays is one such vehicle.
This series of one-acts follows previous titles such as Son of the Surreal Plays, Daughter of the Surreal Plays and Revenge of the Surreal Plays. Director and writer Minton says in the program notes that he was inspired by great storytellers from his youth: Rod Serling on television, Samuel Beckett in the theatre, and fantasy writer H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. These influences are clearly filtered through the three short plays performed by Lumina on opening night, April 19. (A fourth play, Quartet for the End of Time, is given during all other performances.)
The invasion begins with a metaphysical mash-up of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and Theatre of the Absurd, Eye-Spy. The Boy (Peter McNally) may be just a boy, or he may be Gingy the Gingerbread Man. He would like nothing more than to escape a strange forest, but he is visited by a nightmarish gallery of characters that confounds him while stirring up memories of what may be his past or his present. His sister (Maya Davis) also morphs into Thum Belina, a wily fox, a wise old peddler and the symbolic Raven.
The script for Eye-Spy is a roller coaster of references, variations, and questions without answers. When crossing paths with the Boy, Hansel (Sam Felsenthal) tells Gingy that he might be fabled in a made-up world or real in a made-up world. Or both. That pretty much sums it up.
Leaving the confines of the Round House’s black box space, Oraculum Mechanica is presented as an unsettling and thought-provoking film. Minton’s palette is even darker here than in Eye-Spy – think H.G. Wells and “The Outer Limits” – and it succeeds pulling the audience into a shadow world we can only hope will not come to pass.
In a dystopian future, a secretive female interviewer (Abby Weissman) visits a high-security facility overseen by a cautious caretaker (Sam Felsenthal). As the security video from the facility rolls, we learn the interviewer has come to question someone – or something – deep within the secured location. Secretly, the intrepid female records her interview with the Oraculum Mechnica, a robotic humanoid soothsayer – an amazing portrayal by ensemble member Aziza Afzal, aided by some fantastic prosthetic make-up.
Oraculum Mechanica, with its Orwellian overtones, would be right at home on the old black and white television many of us gathered around late at night to get a glimpse into the future.
The grand finale of Invasion of the Surreal Plays is another blast from the past by way of the future: a twisted send up of all things “Star Trek.” Fireball XL? hurls an all-female crew into the vast expanses of space where alien encounters and focus groups are a way of life. This is not the Starship Enterprise, Trekkies; this is a starship feminized in a future where men have all but disappeared. (A passing reference mentions that males remained indifferent to global warming and just faded away around 2014.)
Lead by the intrepid Captain Buck Priscilla Thorn (a commandingly comic Clare Lefebure) the Fireball XL is on a mission to spread good, solid female values throughout the universe while seeking the location of the legendary Lost Boys.
Minton’s script and the stellar cast have a field day with sight gags, inside jokes, Trek-centric humor and nearly every cliché Gene Roddenberry’s utopian space opera has spawned. Cold intelligent aliens, an impulsive commander, robots with feelings, expendable ensigns who die at the hands of alien scum – it’s all there. So are the mini-skirts and knee boots of the mid-60s idea of stardate circa 2322.
Fireball XL? also spoofs the arts, male-female relationships, female-female relationships and does so with wit and lots of room for heart. The performers have a grand time and so does the audience.
I would be remiss if I left out the rest of the Lumina Ensemble appearing in Invasion of the Surreal Plays. It is easy to forget they are only in their teens. Their stage presence, fine voice, and vivid portrayals throughout the three plays are a credit to their developing talent and the training they have received at Lumina. The other ensemble members include Ian Teixeira, Emma Bergman, Aaron Posner, Rory Beckett, Molly Beckett, Sophie Cameron, Meg Lebow, Mia Massimino, Isabel Echavarria, and Martin Glusker.
Aside from his childhood literary idols, Minton was also clearly inspired by the youthful performers who have grown up under his tutelage at Lumina. Since he has worked with most of them since they were small children, Minton has provided them with many opportunities to grow as actors through revamped classics, Shakespeare and modern works.
Invasion of the Surreal Plays is a fitting tribute to these young and vibrant performers, offering colorful characters swathed in whimsy. It is also a prime example of the power of live theatre where excellent writing and trained and passionate performers intersect.
The production also serves as a bittersweet swan-song for many of the cast members. The majority of the ensemble members will bid farewell to Lumina after this production as they head off to college and the next phase of their development.
With only four performances which closed April 21st, our Highly Recommended rating comes too late for those of you who missed the performances. Audiences will have to wait for some later Lumina venture into the surreal. But their next production swings the pendulum back to the classics for Shakefest 2013, when the Lumina Studio Youth perform another original Lumina stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (May 3 – 12).