It’s a surprising exploration of the impossible space between us. It’s a harrowing look at how the everyman deals with self-implosion after an unexpected catastrophic supernova-style life event. While our “cannibal” galaxy devours the smaller ones in it’s orbit above, America seems to be eating itself below. The play questions if our violent collisions and interactions permanently leave vast distances between us that can never be traversed. It’s a riveting work where both the micro- and macrocosm share the stage, where the milky way feels present in the room as well as the smallest human quarks, leaving us clinging to the gravitational force field of… love?
Playwright Charise Greene places us in the Washington D.C. Science Museum in 2015 where the tour guide staff are convening before a shift. The respective personalities are attempting to interact with each other, to find connection but seem to be repelling each other with every word spoken and every gesture executed. Their desperate desire for acceptance gets in the way of ease in conversation. They each harbor an empty space within, a void that seems impossible to fill. The opening scenes made me think of the Mad One’s Miles for Mary production where the everyday “mundane” dance of the average worker is elevated to definitive narrative. However, in Cannibal Galaxy: a love story, just as you get comfortable with the characters, their foibles and celebrations, the play sky rockets you into another dimension entirely. Space expands and we lose the secure footing of the naturalistic and move into another reality.
Jenn Haltman’s direction of this interesting work is highly inventive. Her use of spatial relationships between animate and inanimate elements is simply brilliant. I loved the way she used the space at the New Ohio Theatre creating worlds within worlds and the unexpected ways that she broke the fourth wall – constantly expanding the universe of the play and its characters. Her vision for the piece is evident in each masterful moment and the attention to detail of the emotional through line.
The cast are awesome. Jason C. Brown as Vadim, the “head boy” of the group, is magnificent. He is extraordinary as the people pleaser unable to honor his own wants and needs. Brown has a huge energy on stage with a presence that seems to fill up the space, the milky way and beyond. Robin Galloway as Jo, who likes to take what is not offered or given, gives her character a detailed physicality. She is marvelously quirky but is able to plunge the depths of Jo’s desperation with authentic sadness.
Eloise, played by Olivia Oguma, is living on the outskirts of society and seems to be about to fly off into an alternative reality, is a magnetic character that pulls you into her vortex like a Venus flytrap. Oguma is a consummate performer who manages to convey Eloise’s extreme isolation and loneliness while wrapping you around her little finger.
Dominic F. Russo as Chet is hilarious. His portrayal of social ineptness is sublime. Russo is a delightful tragic clown that breaks our heart as we laugh at his character’s failings. Becca Schneider plays the fragmented, fearful Claire with exquisite agony. You can see her breaking apart bit by bit, losing her center and trying to hold on to the debris flying around her orbit. You want to go and glue her back together, hold her in your arms and comfort this broken bird.
Jo Yang play a few roles in the piece -Eloise’s mom, Carrie Henn and a patron. She brings gentleness and love into the equation. When she enters the play she always positively charges the ions in the space with her presence.
Tim McMath’s sensational scenic design elevates the entire production. He perfectly captures the essence of the play and houses it in a truly inspired setting. His set is like another vital character in the play. It is quite beautiful. Yana Birÿkova’s projection design works in glorious tandem with McMath’s scenic palette to create lush visual backgrounds that further the story. The design eye candy is topped with the intuitive lighting design by Kate Bashore that manages to expertly capture the emotionality of inner worlds, the uncontained universe and the small crevices of human gatherings.
Jerzy Jung’s gorgeous original music coupled with Fan Zhang’s sound design catapults us far beyond the earths atmosphere. They easily bring the cosmos into the space and minutes later project us light years away. It’s an aural massage of sound tickling. Sarah Thea’s costume design places us right in the heart of the everyman’s day, clearly outlining the character’s key personality trait.
Professor Duncan Forbes (astrophysicist) and his colleague, Dr. Terry Bridges, are credited with revealing the concept of our “cannibalistic” galaxy saying, “Previously astronomers considered our galaxy might have absorbed stars from a couple of others. These latest data provide evidence that the Milky Way may be far hungrier than we imagined, and has swallowed pieces of as many as six or eight.” This world premiere production by “between two boroughs” is a discourse on our own hunger – for connection, for belonging, for filling the empty space within. Cannibal Galaxy: a love story operates like the Mars Rover collecting data about the surface of things and hinting at the caverns and mysteries that lie undiscovered beneath.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Cannibal Galaxy: a love story runs June 8 – 17, at The New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street between Washington and Greenwich Street) For more information and tickets visit http://www.betweentwoboroughs.com/upcoming/