Entertainment » Theatre

On This Moon

by Kilian Melloy
Sunday Apr 25, 2010
Nick Miller and Leda Ueberbacher star in On This Moon, playing through April 24 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts
Nick Miller and Leda Ueberbacher star in On This Moon, playing through April 24 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts  (Source:Jake Scaltreto / Flat Earth Theatre)

Flat Earth Theatre's world premiere production of On This Moon, playing through April 24 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, goes--with a big wink--where all those cheesy old sci-fi TV shows and movies have long since been.

Like the 1950s classic Forbidden Planet, On This Moon concerns a reclusive man--Dr. Paulson (David Marino)--looking out, or so he believes, for the best interests of his daughter, Mary (Audrey Lynn Sylvia). Forbidden Planet was a space-borne retread of Shakespeare's The Tempest, but instead of Caliban, that movie gave us Robbie the Robot. In the case of On This Moon, we get both: an almost literal "moon calf," an alien named Caden (Nick Miller), who sees the world on which he lives as his property by birthright, and an android, Ariel (Leda Ueberbacher), who--like the replicants in Blade Runner--wishes to be free to make her own decisions.

The arrival of survivors from a destroyed rocket ship isn't by happenstance. Dr. Paulson has calculated events to the last degree, figuring out how to re-enter the galactic civilization he left behind years before, while making a tidy profit for himself--and securing a politically expedient marriage for his daughter. But not even Dr. Paulson can take into account the things to which he is blind: the strength of the love between Mary and Caden, which enrages Dr. Paulson, is one such factor; another is the fact that--Dr. Paulson's love elixir aside--new arrival Freddy (Ryan Amaryl) is gay, and all the vanilla and exotic herbs in the universe won't make him fall for Mary.

Freddy's arrival brightens things considerably. What starts as a plodding, cliche-bound nod to one genre blossoms into an example of another: from self-serious, but low-budget, sci-fi in the vein of Star Trek or The Outer Limits, Kevin Mullins' script moves into high-spirited camp, with Freddy as the "sassy gay friend" who shares Mary's worries while Caden and Dr. Paulsen cook up plots against one another.

The sassy gay friend is a contemporary device used to liven things up; an older comic trope is the drunken servant, and once again the play delivers both, introducing Stephen (Mikey DiLoreto), who has also survived the crash--along with a case of liquor. Even as Stephen stumbles around in the wilds of the desolate moon, his master, Governor Robin (Kevin Kordis), along with an administrator, Gilmore (Andrew McKnight), have emerged from their own escape pod and are trying to track down the Governor's son--who turns out to be none other than Freddy. The governor frets about the argument he and his son had just prior to the catastrophe that destroyed the rocket ship; the administrator can't help but notice the moon's abundance of mineral wealth, which Dr. Paulson is willing to sell at the bargain basement price of one billion (credits? Dollars? Whatever, as Mary would say).

Stephen's hysterics, like Freddy's witty banter, gives the play a faster rhythm and a lighter touch. On occasion, Dr. Paulson--when taunting Ariel--brings a similar comic energy to the play. It's when the plot thickens that the production seems soggy and disjointed, partly because the brief scenes the script favors seem to consist of little more than blunt exposition. We get the back story: a war between the Arturians and humanity accounts for Dr. Paulson's contempt for Caden; Dr. Paulson has a shady past and powerful enemies to contend with in the galaxy's more populous areas. We also get a sense of a highly organized and well thought out future society. What we don't get, as the characters spell these things out for us, is a sense of dramatic urgency.

Caden and Mary's problematic relationship is given some depth, but with so many other things going on, this authentically star-crossed romance gets short-changed; and the ending, while nicely symmetrical with the play's first scene, feels neither like a resolution nor a twist, but rather like a switch has been flipped: the tenderness and passion between the lovers seems to play no part in the outcome, or else to evaporate at the very instant when their relationship is at its most fraught.

But the production makes up for the script's shortcomings. The set by Nathan Kruback is lunar in look and feel, with rocks and a blank "sky", and dead twigs representing the sort of plant life that seems to characterize barren planets in any old-style science fiction adventure, be it Lost in Space or episodes of The Twilight Zone. The fake boulders and the floor have been painted Martian red: it's so familiar in its alienness that we feel right at home despite the setting's light-years-distant remove.

Tyson Ratering's original music is weird and provocative, and so much better than the theramin-driven music of 1950s sci-fi movies or the maddening "music" of the Forbidden Planet score. Kelly Noonan's makeup is perfect for the tone the play seemingly aims for: Caden's gray skin and unconvincing forehead bumps and nasal ridges recall the generic look of aliens from Deep Space Nine and other Star Trek shows. Dan Beedy's light design doesn't slouch, either, with electric greens and deep purples dominating.

But the biggest triumph belongs to costumer Lindsay Gonzales, who does a better job at explaining the place, time, and characters than the script does. We know Caden's role the moment we catch sight of his future-serf garb; the shipwrecked aristocracy look every bit their parts, clad as they are in faux-Tudor finery; and Ariel's gleaming silver accoutrements pay homage to her fembot forebear in the Fritz Lang classic Metropolis, while still expressing a freshness and flair.

On This Moon plays through April 24 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, located at 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown.

Tickets cost $15 when purchased online at www.brownpapertickets.com or $18 at the door. Seniors and students receive a $5 discount. A "pay what you can" performance will take place April 22 at 8:00 p.m.

Performance schedule: April 16th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, April 18th, at 7:00 p.m; April 18th and 24th matinees will begin at 2:00 p.m.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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