What is your personal silliness threshold? Your tolerance level for fourth-wall breaking? Your preferred amount of Tang to get sprayed all over your face? Your answers to these questions will determine your overall enjoyment of Amelia Earhart… in SPACE!
If you said “pretty silly, but not too much,” “fourth wall? what fourth wall?” and “ALL the Tang,” then John-Nicholas Walsh and AnyStage Theater Company’s show is right for you.
If, however, you’ve had a good number of Fringe experiences with some seriously silly, head-smackingly ridiculous theatre, then you may find Earhart not quite living up to the irreverent promise of its title. It takes a lot of work to make something totally wacky, and while the company has plenty of spirit, the piece gets frequently bogged down in an excess of plotting.
Said plot is surprisingly coherent – a parody sci-fi yarn in which our titular hero (Aria Velz, winsome and charismatic) is kidnapped to OUTER SPACE during what history incorrectly remembers as her fateful final flight. She encounters a host of curious characters on Neptune, including possibly-tyrannical Princess Elegencia (Jessica Swanson), Elegencia’s questionably-devoted human assistant Chuck (Nate McGraw), and her downtrodden subjects, the squeaky-voiced, dimwitted Jub-Jubs. Mysterious identities are uncovered, assassinations are carried out, and a quest to save Earth eventually ensues.
Some silly-type plays like this aim to actually give their protagonist a heartfelt emotional arc, but the writing team and director Zack Walsh are uninterested in wasting our time with such claptrap – Amelia keeps attempting to sing an “I Want” song, but not even Isaac Mantelli and Kristen Chiama’s lighting design wants her to do it. Therefore, the longer sections where Amelia’s loyalties are challenged and the intentions of the opposing forces are outlined seem unnecessary – we’re really not here for a suspenseful plot – and the joke-per-minute count droops down. It’s too bad, because for a show like this, not every gag is going to land, so you’ve got to keep that count high in order to keep the laughs coming.
Amelia Earhart… IN SPACE!
Produced by AnyStage Theater
Details and tickets
That said, there are some great sequences where the laughs spill out easily, including a wonderfully painful dream ballet and a bloodbath or two or five. It must be said that AnyStage has the boldest commitment to drenching the lucky audience members in their designated splash zone of any show I can recall seeing in DC (even including Molotov Theatre’s work). I can now report that Tang tastes orange even when it only gets in your eye. An important warning: the cut-out trashbags the company provides as ponchos are too small for any taller, larger, or more broad-shouldered attendee, so be prepared to either bring your own or sit on the splash-free right side of the theater.
The most entertaining parts of Earhart are those where the cast and crew mess up – whether deliberately or not – and have to cover for it with a quick joke. Example: one of two cardboard trees falls over onstage; ensemble member Amanda Quain tosses it offstage, yelling “Deforestation!”
Everyone is totally relaxed and having oodles of fun up there, so it’s as amusing to watch them mess up a costume change as it is for them to get it right and proceed to the next planned bit. The writing team is clearly up on their TV Tropes, so opportunities for these kinds of meta-accidents abound. (And, sidenote, the writing team is also clearly up on their aviation history – a nice bonus when the plot twists start coming.)
This is the first Fringe production by AnyStage, a year-old Northern Virginia theater company of recent college graduates whose mission is to “bridge the gap between younger and older audiences.” Their first few productions were all Shakespeare and Wilde, so this is an interesting turn for the new group.
Amelia Earhart… IN SPACE! may be either too willfully dumb or insufficiently madcap for those more experienced audiences, but if the company keeps working to bring their skills up to the level of their enthusiasm and really hones their own style and identity, we can expect some pretty swell theatre in their future. In the meantime, you could do far worse at Fringe than to leave this show dripping with fruit-flavored liquids after 70 minutes of light fun.
Amelia Earhart… IN SPACE! by John-Nicholas Walsh and the members of AnyStage Theater Company . Directed by Zack Walsh . Featuring Aria Velz, Nate McGraw, David Koenigsburg, Catherine O’Meara, Khalonji Bulluck, Jessica Swanson, Amanda Quain . Stage Manager: Andrew Brockmeyer . Wardrobe: Kirsten Koch . Props: Pressley Johnson . Light Design: Isaac Mantelli and Kristen Chiama . Sound Design: Nic Swanson . Music: Pete Swanson and Kevin MacLeod, Lyrics by John-Nicholas Walsh . Choreography: Jessica Swanson . Fight Choreography: Amanda Quain . Produced by AnyStage Theater . Reviewed by Brett Steven Abelman.