‘The Man From Earth’ at The Heritage Players by Amanda Gunther

FOUR AND A HALF STARS
To be immortal; can one truly imagine what it is like to live forever? Not only live forever but never age? How would you keep your secret? How would you pass the time? Sound like something straight out of the twilight zone? The man who lived 14,000 years and never aged a day past 35? That might be because The Heritage Players have brought paranormalcy to life upon their stage with Richard Shenkman’s adaptation of Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth. A far-fetched bizarre mind-blowing concept that differs immensely from their usual musical theatre offerings, this bold new approach to making science-fiction a theatrical experience will take you into a surreal reality that is completely possible in a totally unbelievable way. Directed by Stephen Michael Deininger, this production is out there but totally worth it for the disbelief it supplants into your mind.

Sandy (Tara VanGemeren) and John Oldman (Andrew Worthington). Photo by Josh McKerrow.

Sandy (Tara VanGemeren) and John Oldman (Andrew Worthington). Photo by Josh McKerrow.

Lighting Designer Mark Scanga works closely with Deininger to create the maximum feeling of suspense and twilight-zone style titillation during moments of cleverly crafted reveal throughout the production. Scanga brings the lights down into something subtle and almost sinister when the man character begins to extrapolate about his previous existence, as if highlighting him by the cave-fires of his original life. Augmented by Sound Designer Stuart C. Kazanow highlights these intense moments with the underscoring of violins and haunting sounds. Kazanow’s timing with the various car arrivals is a little too hasty— actors appearing immediately at the front porch door as the sound of the engine is killed, but his effects sound real.

Deininger’s one fault in this production is adding an intermission to the performance where previously there was none. While his placement of the intermission builds up to a climactic hang point with a veritable explosion of information just as the intermission falls, the pause itself stifles the back half of the action upon “act II” being resumed. The first act is excruciatingly long and takes forever to get going, which feels less like anyone’s fault and more just the heavy verbose exposition of the play, but when the momentum finally gets going it is clipped abruptly short by this intermission and the second half isn’t long enough to truly rebuild that energy that finally spiraled to a head in the first half. Otherwise, Deininger’s casting choices, as well as his blocking for what occurs on the stage, is flawless.

Without giving too much away, as that big reveal needs to be a surprise, what happens in the first act is truly astonishing; each of the various characters taking turns sharing moments of suspended disbelief and outright accusations of falsehood. The core group are like-minded scientists, depending on hard fact for evidence in cases of whether or not to believe something, making the premise of this particular play even more interesting.

Dan (Damien Gibbons) is the perpetual devil’s advocate without the sinister intent behind his character’s questions. Forever posing the ‘what if’ and ‘suppose we did believe you’ questions, Gibbons brings an intellectual sound to his character right down to the way he stands and gestures when asking questions of John. His interactions with the others are more detached as if he stands on his own apart from the crowd, but at the end of the day is still one of them.

Ever the bitter non-believer is Art (Ed Higgins) with a sarcastic quip poised and ready to throttle right on the tip of his tongue. Higgins glides easily into the pessimism of his character’s convictions and is easily rattled while maintaining his grounded view of everything, very much doubting all that he hears. Higgins becomes the needle trying to poke holes in what is being presented as truth and does so with a jagged vehemence that makes him dislikable to those in the group, but very much admired by those of us with similar doubts.

Harry (Jonathan Sachsman) is the typical joker, a class clown of sorts with inappropriate remarks and good comic timing. He too has his moments of doubt, but follows through his character’s choices with a simple air as if committing to the statement, ‘water off a duck’s back.’ Sachsman, despite his character’s slight jackassery, is a neutral presence on the stage and falls into the story just as readily as any audience member might.

A seemingly quiet character turned into a dynamic eruption of accusations comes from Edith (Kathy Wenerick-Bell). At first just reserved and present, Wenerick-Bell quickly devolves into this indignant and highly insulted woman who lets her emotions roll straight off her sleeve, engaging her voice and face to do so tenfold. Her moment of breakdown when confronting John over the truth is engaging and compelling with a real force behind it and watching her further attempt to defend her own convictions makes her the crowning female performer in this show.

And the focal point of the story, John Oldman (Andrew Worthington) at first seems to be your ordinary man. But Worthington’s character is anything but ordinary. A natural born storyteller, Worthington waxes nostalgic on times past with a poetic fluidity crafting pristine images from his text that draw the audience into a trance, as if he were using his words to truly transport those listening to that other time and place. He makes dull exciting without ever having to raise his voice or gesticulate wildly; a true master of the craft. Worthington’s intrapersonal side is exposed when interacting with the jaded and somewhat romantic Sandy (Tara VanGemeren). She takes the role in stride knowing her place in the story and giving it just the right amount of sparkle.

John Oldman (center- Andrew Worthington) and the cast of 'The Man From Earth.' Photo by Josh McKerrow.

John Oldman (center – Andrew Worthington) and the cast of ‘The Man From Earth.’ Photo by Josh McKerrow.

The words to describe it are simply out of this world, and you will walk away with your mind blown!

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes with one intermission.

The Man From Earth plays through April 21, 2013 at The Rice Auditorium – 55 Wade Avenue, in Catonsville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 575-6645, or purchase them online.

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