Musical-comedy improv troupe Robot Teammate has landed in New York with an energetic hour of silly sci-fi fun in Turbulence!, now performing at SoHo Playhouse for the final week of this year’s international Fringe Encore Series. What began as an improvised skit in 2016, based on an impromptu audience suggestion at a Los Angeles comedy club, was collaboratively developed by the seven-member collective into a scripted space-age parody with original music and choreography that took a number of top awards in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Set in the year 4242, the futuristic farce pits the reigning champions from Mars in an Intergalympics race through space against a rival team of dysfunctional competitors from planet Earth. So what if their spaceship, the SS Albacore, is made out of old tuna cans? So what if they’ve just mistakenly refueled their engines with something other than turbo, lost power, and are headed for a high-speed crash into Jupiter? Will the scrappy crew from Team Earth come together, harness the turbulence, regain control, and zoom ahead for the win?
Directed by Lauren Pritchard in a comically casual style reminiscent of an extended Saturday Night Live TV sketch, the spirited creators/performers of Robot Teammate (Chris Bramante, Miles Crosman, Molly Dworsky, Sam Johnides, Branson NeJame, Kat Primeau, and Dave Reynolds) fully embrace their wacky future vision with full-out goofiness and gusto. Employing just a few props, chairs, and tiered tables on a black-box stage, they imaginatively deliver witty astrophysical lingo, corny jokes, pop-culture references, and over-the-top characterizations, in a mash-up of fictional space-traveling archetypes and current Millennial stereotypes, who battle, sing, dance, and “Spacercize” their way through the universe.
Johnides (music direction and composition) and NeJame (additional composition and sound effects) appear in glittery red jackets and unibrows as a supercilious pair of Martians, taunting and teasing their “two-brow” human opponents in the derisive duet “Bow to the Brow” (along with Christopher Sousa and Sam Kirsch, they also provide live musical accompaniment throughout the show as The Martian Band). Their adversaries from Team Earth, dressed in shiny silver uniforms, are played by Crosman (lead writer on book and lyrics) as the handsome, blond, and vain but clueless Captain Davin Galaxy; Primeau (lead choreographer) as Dr. Joules Johnson, a nerdy bespectacled scientist with a craving for ‘the Juice’; Bramante as the long-haired Southern redneck mechanic Mick Cribbins; Reynolds as the obsolete but lovable robot Mambo 4, who suffers frequent technical glitches and sings of his longing to understand real human emotions (“The Feelz”); and Molly Dworsky as Pilot Pattern MaGerk, a dispassionate Goth girl in heavy black eyeliner who responds to virtually every situation with an apathetic “Whatever” – until she and her crewmates face the sobering realization of imminent death in “Power’s Low” (a haunting dirge featuring beautiful a cappella harmonies that contrasts with the funny upbeat tone of the rest of the score).
While Turbulence! does include some serious underlying messages about mortality, the depletion of natural resources on our planet, and the pressing need for amity to triumph over enmity if we are to survive, Robot Teammate presents them in the entertaining context of an amusing outer-space adventure, in a laugh-filled Fringe offering that’s a blast for the whole family.
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.
Trailer for Turbulence! in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival.