The Greatest Science Fiction Show (No One’s Ever Seen) provides no shortage of giggles, paired with some heartwarming moments. Part love letter to a old-school science fiction, part middle finger to the Sad Puppies of the Hugo awards, and part affection for geek culture, Grain of Sand’s show serves as a pleasant Fringe offering to delight fans of the genre and fans of the theatre.
Greatest opens with a communiqué, already hinting flavors of a “captain’s log”, delivered with (purposefully) wavering optimism by President Sandra Lorry (Aubri O’Connor), supported by her advisor HG (Beth Amann). We shift to a more familiar world, where Julie (Jennifer Berry), enters the comic book shop of Ty (Paolo Santayana), in search of the most obscure science fiction television show ever: “Live from Cauldron Five”, whose protagonists include the already introduced President Lorry and HG, followed by a cast rounded out by the alien scientist Jenkins (Stephanie Svec), Flores (Luke Morris), and the Head of the Presidential Guard, Lance Hardwick (Christopher C Holbert). With the opening credits complete, Julie and Ty sit down to marathon the show.
We quickly learn that the evil Ambassador Snarkus (Christopher Herring), has set his sights on the planet Alcyon, home of Cauldron Five, the last remaining power source and colony on the planet. In the vein of true sci-fi villainy, he offers President Lorry a dastardly Sophie’s Choice. Soon, we discover that the fuel source behind Cauldron Five has been becoming increasingly less effective. Thus begins the energy crisis central to the plot of “Live from Cauldron Five”. This, in turn, weaves a tale that initiates a surreal and unexpected effect on our audience surrogates: Julie and Ty.
Playwright Pamela Leahigh has crafted us a fascinating dual world, giving us some delightful sci-fi cheesiness in the stylized dialogue of the tv show within the show, and some real world awkwardness between two sci-fi fans.
The Greatest Science Fiction Show (No One’s Ever Seen)Produced by Grain of Sand Theatre
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Sara Bickler’s direction was purposeful and flowed well despite the challenges of the small upstairs theatre at Logan Fringe Arts Space. Bringing science fiction to life on stage is no easy task without a slew of special effects, but Bickler and her actors fared well with minimal props and a lot of commitment. There were a few moments of “audience participation” which felt clunky. I believe I understand the thematic value of “reaching out”, but those moments seemed quite removed from the technique of the show.
I felt a bit coddled by the playwright and director. For instance, there’s an inherent feminism to the piece, which struck me as both important in our current cultural discussion and in the power of simply writing characters who cover a wide variety of feminine traits without being defined solely by them. However, there were times where I felt that I was being hit over the head with it, which in a sense weakened the effect. To allow that beautiful ideology to live as a beating heart underneath the piece would ultimately have made this a more rewarding experience. I found myself wishing that Leahigh and Bickler would trust their audience just that little bit more.
On the acting side, Aubri O’Connor’s President Lorry stood proud and tall, with O’Connor’s presence alone carrying the noble bearing of a leader, lover, mother, and friend. While some technical moments might have been sharper, overall, O’Connor’s solid performance helped navigate the increasingly complex plot with levity and lightness. HG, played with poise and precision by Beth Amann, easily became my favorite character, my enthusiasm matching that of Santayana’s Ty. Amann managed to take us on a rather quick journey of twists and reveals with clarity and ease, always carefully taking us through each new development. Christopher Holbert’s Lance Hardwick proved to be a good foil to O’Connor, effectively showing us why neither Julie or Ty liked his character at all. Stephanie Svec’s Jenkins proved expressive and thoughtful, even under a thick coat of alien makeup and facial prosthetic.
Jennifer Berry and Paola Santayana kicked off the show with nerves showing, manifesting in bobbled lines, and awkward choices that proved difficult to assign to actor or character. Once they settled into the show and began to breathe, both actors did a fine job of drawing me into their improbable story. Berry managed to mix an effective blend of a Kaywinnet Lee Frye-like cheer and charm and the steely determination of Leia Organa. Santayana, in turn, brought us a nice mix of Dante from Clerks mixed with the earnestness Luke Skywalker.
Christopher Herring burst into each of his scenes with full commitment and enthusiasm, bringing a gust of fresh air. Luke Morris’s Flores seemed to be the odd one in the mix, drawing references not from mainstream sci-fi, but rather showing flavors of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show. While Rocky Horror is science fiction (double feature) in its own right, Morris’ choices seemed the most outlandish and strange, not quite fitting with the timbre of the show. Across the board, the actors attacked their parts with gusto and zest, but slacked in the technical proficiency that I would expect from a seasoned company like Grain of Sand Theatre.
For seasoned Fringers and newcomers alike, this felt like a great introduction into this year’s Capital Fringe: lighthearted fun, a lovingly crafted and clever script, embodied with a lot of love from a group of talented artists.
The Greatest Science Fiction Show (No One’s Ever Seen) by Pamela Leahigh . Directed by Sara Bickler . Cast: Aubri O’Connor, Beth Amann, Paola Santayana, Jennifer Berry, Luke Morris, Stephanie Svec, Christopher C. Holbert, and Christopher Herring. Assistant Director: Carl Brandt Long . Stage Manager: Morgan Sexton . Produced by Grain of Sand Theatre . Reviewed by Jon Jon Johnson.