By combining Isaac Asimov-style science fiction with Monty Python-style silliness, Douglas Adams created a whole new genre. It paid off very handsomely for Adams: His most famous work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, began as a BBC Radio series in 1978 and was eventually turned into a TV series, a movie, and a series of best-selling books.
Last year, Hedgerow Theatre assembled a group of four actors to present the radio scripts onstage. As the scripts sit on music stands (just like in real radio drama), the actors read their lines in a variety of voices. Meanwhile, scenes and characters were depicted in drawings projected behind the actors. As with just about every version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide franchise, that production was deemed a success – so this year, the four actors have returned to continue the saga with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Part 2.
Mark Swift, Josh Portera, Allison Bloechl, and David Titus adopt playful attitudes – and a series of English accents – to play several dozen of Adams’ characters. They’re clearly having a lot of fun, and their pleasure is contagious. Swift is suitably exasperated as the hero Arthur Dent, forced to travel the universe after Earth is accidentally destroyed to make way for an intergalactic bypass. And Portera provides a weary voice and a hilariously hangdog expression for his role as a robot named Marvin the Paranoid Android.
The plot developments in this edition of Hitchhiker’s Guide include a team of hyper-intelligent mice; a supercomputer called Deep Thought that tries to figure out the answer to life’s ultimate question; and a sequence where the characters go millions of years back in time, where they teach Scrabble to cavemen. Jokes like these should give you an idea of Adams’ style of comedy. You’ll either delight in Adams’ highly absurdist wit, or you’ll be bewildered by it. (During intermission, I spoke to audience members from both camps.) But if you give it a chance, you may find this lively take on Hitchhiker’s Guide will win you over.
Director Jared Reed’s straightforward production, like the radio series, proves that you don’t need glitz to make the jokes work. In fact, the stage version replicates the low-key charm that made the radio version work so well (and which the too-literal TV version never quite matched). Phoebe Titus’ artwork, which combines still drawings with delightfully unpolished animation, suits the production’s style comfortably.
If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams, this production will probably seem like manna from heaven to you. Or at least like a delicious meal from “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” – one of the many places you’ll visit with this talented crew.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, including an intermission.