It begins (and ends) with silence. And darkness.
The lights dim and the performers, their writing/directing/acting, transport us — we leave reality, the Earth, to be part of a theatrical space. In their new Cabaret program hundredyearspacetrip, Kate Attwell DRA ’13 and Nina Segal take on the roles of astronauts, using outer space as a metaphor for the stage. The show is not a story, more of a poem — it teases, muses and thoughtfully reflects. The result is visually charming, well-written and entertaining, even if a little distant at parts.
The play is tripartite, with the stage divided into thirds. In the first, a man (Ryan Davis DRA ’14 ) paces feverishly around a messy office — philosophizing over the mysteries of life, the universe and everything. In the second, two brightly animated housewives (one played by Brenda Meany; the other, by an unnamed actress) discuss plans for a hundred-year journey to outer space, as well as pregnancy, time travel and everything their husbands say.
There is no stage, really. The characters (the actors themselves) ignore the fourth wall. On the last third of the stage, two orange-suited astronauts, Atwell and Segal, sit before a microphone and speak directly to the audience. They recount faded memories, play games to pass the time and deliver their lines as purposefully stilted banter, monotonic and often monosyllabic. It is as if they had been space-traveling for so long they have lost their humanity.
Who are these two astronauts? Atwell and Segal sit motionless while delivering the play’s most important philosophies and asking the big questions, but they aren’t characters — they play flattened out derivatives of themselves.
Therein lies the show’s power but also its major weakness. They make us think, but unfortunately, they don’t make us feel. Atwell and Segal took a unique creative risk in playing themselves, yet they forget to be performers as well. As they stare out at the audience, we wonder why these writers have gone onstage. What is it they’re searching for, seeking? Our approval?
But despite its faults, the play is light, funny and aesthetically wonderful; outer space has been recreated in the Cabaret with a clever beauty. An old slide projector is used to display images of space, nebulas and galaxies, dramatically blown up with light. Davis projects stars, pinpoints of light, onto himself to a mesmerizing, planetarium-like effect. What does it feel like to break through the atmosphere? It is, as Atwell and Segal demonstrate, as simple as holding one’s breath — and then release. In this production, simplicity and poetry sub in for size and expense.
The results are charming. hundredyearspacetrip is visually appealing and carefully written. Every monologue carries the rhythm of a Teeth slam, word play and outerspace clichés are endearingly frequent. Parts may be excessively contemplative, and the conclusion may feel rather abrupt, but that’s all part of its poeticism — thoroughly enjoyable for its brevity, its wit and its insight into the nature of acting/pretend/reality.