As you can probably guess, writer John-Nicholas Walsh’s new play, now running in the upstairs performance space at Logan Fringe Arts Center, is about, well, the adventures of aviatrix Amelia Earhart. In space.
Imagine if you will, that Ms. Earhart did not crash land in the ocean, or get captured by the Japanese and die of dysentery in a prison camp, as current theories suggest. What if she and co-pilot Fred Noonan (a running joke is made of the fact that no one ever remembers his name, or even that he was with Earhart) were instead stalked by a blinding white light, and tractor beamed onto a ship that took them to the outer reaches of the galaxy?
This is what Walsh and the members of AnyStage Theater Company posit may have happened. It is just as silly as it seems, in a hilariously good way. Amelia Earhart in Space is one of those performance pieces it is difficult to review without giving too much away. However, one thing it is important to know is that the seating area to the left of the stage is labeled as the “Splash Zone” with audience members strongly urged to take plastic ponchos and trash bags. Please heed these warnings or suffer the consequences.
The show opens in 2015. We know this because of a cast member standing with a prominently lettered sign saying so. Gerty and Harrison (played by Jessica Swanson and Nate McGraw), a “simple farm couple” as they keep reminding us, are standing in a field, admiring their crops, annoyed only by a rogue goat (played by David Koenigsburg, whom I can barely think of now without laughing out loud). Suddenly, a large silver spaceship crash lands nearby. It is swiftly followed by two Men in Black (Catherine O’Meara and Khalonji Bulluck), who reassure the couple that everything is normal, and that unlike in the movies, their “flashy thing” will not wipe their memories: it merely kills them outright. As it was probably meant to, this admonition leads the couple to flee into their house, leaving the MiB’s to examine the spaceship in privacy. Suddenly, the doors open, and out pops Amelia Earhart, played with hysterical earnestness by Aria Velz: alive and well, and there to warn them of impending danger.
It seems Earhart was abducted to the planet Neptune by perfectly Glinda-esque Princess Elegencia (Swanson again); in the best traditions of sketch comedy, all of the actors except Velz, play multiple roles. The planet needs her help to battle The Unpleasant Ones and keep the ominously named Dark Times from returning. However, the princess’s trusted advisor, Chuck, another human (McGraw, who pulls terrific faces full of snark and world-weariness), seems to be trying to warn her that all is not what it seems. Apparently, the Neptunians have kidnapped multiple famous pilots, aviation experts and astronauts over the years. They are also oppressing and ruling over an “inferior species” called the Jub Jubs. Earhart is torn: Does she help the charming yet possibly evil Elegencia, or assist the Jub Jubs in breaking free of their chains and stepping into the light of capitalist democracy?
While they are clearly working from a script, the cast manages to keep the frantic spontaneity of improv in nearly every moment. Anachronistic pop culture references whiz past at the speed of light, and are often commented on by the characters with deadpan sincerity. I can’t decide whether Director Zack Walsh carefully orchestrated this chaos, or simply wound his actors up and let them go – and this is probably a good thing.
The staging is minimal with few set pieces and a LOT of props. Scene changes are mostly managed via light and sound cues, largely seamlessly handled by Isaac Mantelli, Kristen Chiama, and Nic Swanson. The costumes, of which there are many because of the myriad roles the actors are required to play – some of them at the same time, are simple, charming and apparently mostly held together by Velcro for easy removal.
Kudos to Wardrobe coordinator Kirsten Koch! The music before the curtain and between scenes consists of a delightfully goofy playlist of space-themed pop songs, curated by Pete Swanson and Kevin MacLeod. While there is not a great deal of dance in the show, Choreographer Jessica Swanson pulls off a spot-on surprise towards the end of the play.
Amelia Earhart in Space is an exhilarating laugh riot you should go out of your way to see.
Please note: Fringe shows start on time; there were several people with tickets who missed this show because of arriving late. You do not want to be one of those people.
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.
RATING: BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!
It should be noted that this show is not best suited for children due to language and…orange Tang. There’s a lot of Tang thrown about.
Also, the upstairs performance space is not easily accessible to patrons with difficulties walking or climbing.