Ray Bradbury said, “Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself . . . Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done.” And, in the first annual Sci-Fest, this important literary genre is celebrated on stage throughout the month of May. Initially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Sci-Fest boasts two full evenings (which alternate week to week) of mostly original one-act plays written, designed, directed, and starring many luminaries of some of the biggest science fiction properties on television. Unique and engaging, Sci-Fest is not to be missed. I was fortunate enough to see Program A, which featured 3 original one-acts pre-intermission and a longer Rad Bradbury story called “Kaleidoscope” afterwards.
The first three pieces, “Forwarding Address,” “Freedom of Speech,” and “The Ringer,” were all solid plays. “Forwarding Address” felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone, where two couples receive a strange letter from an even stranger messenger. The letter warns them that their marriage is doomed, the only problem is it’s vague enough so both couples are sure that the letter is for the other. It had a few plot holes but was well acted and directed. The second play, “Freedom of Speech,” was an intense exploration of censorship through the eyes of a government dissident who has been punished through the removal of his vocal chords. James Kyson carries the piece, waking up from his surgery and crashing around his recovery room, reacting to the only other performer, a disembodied voice played by Pauley Perrette, who is prepping him for a life without the capacity for speech. The third play, “The Ringer,” finds an older gentleman holed up in a Methodist church with several children, while outside an alien race ravages humanity. The occupants of the church have figured out a system to delay, but not deter, their deaths, but it comes at a cost. The play starred David Dean Bottrell as Edward, the patriarch of the survivors, and Jakob Wedel as Max, the scared young boy thrust into these grim circumstances. The real star of this piece was the script, however, which allowed exposition to happen slowly and naturally while constantly ratcheting up the tension until the gruesome climax.
The final play, Ray Bradbury’s “Kaleidoscope,” which is the Festival Centerpiece, was, by far, my favorite. It follows a group of interplanetary explorers who, after a meteor destroys their ship, find themselves stranded, scattered, each hurtling in a different direction through the void, waiting for their inevitable deaths. Having managed to put on their helmets just before impact, the survivors have radio communication with each other, but little else. We spend most of the play in near pitch blackness with only small LED lights inside each of the characters’ helmets. As the captain, played by Dean Haglund (The X-Files), tries to keep his crew calm in the face of certain death, they reflect on life, fear, humanity, hope, and our inevitable death. The acting was superb, with each actor spinning and bobbing in the blackness as they floated through space, especially the powerful performance by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, who plays the abrasive Applegate, but the lighting was exquisite. From the kaleidoscopic crashes of colorful lights that represented explosions and meteor fields, to the small LED helmet lights illuminating both the intimacy of each character’s journey and the vastness of the universe that is swallowing them, the audience feels as if they, too, are floating out in the vastness of space.
Unfortunately, Program A has come to a close, but you can still check out Program B for one more week. Click here for a review of that line up. It’s a fun night of amazing theatre, and, hopefully, it’s only the beginning . . .