The episodic movie serials of the 1930s have inspired several other works through the years, whether in an attempt to capture the adventurous spirit (such as Star Wars or Indiana Jones), or to mock the campiness of the genre (such as Amazon Women on the Moon). With SPACE CAPTAIN: Captain of Space! Jeff Sproul lampoons sci-fi specifically, crafting a multi-media story heavily influenced by equal parts Flash Gordon and the lesser-known 50s tv show Rocky Jones: Space Ranger.
The handsome and effective rocket pilot Rocky Lazer (Matthew Wise) is on a mission to stop King Xayno of the planet Argor (writer Jeff Sproul) from crashing the Moon into Earth. With Rocky is his young sidekick Chip Skipper (Jeremy Mather); Dr. Horst Karlock, inventor of the X-1 spaceship (Jared Warner); and Jean Jarvis, Daughter of the President of the United States of Earth, and the world’s first woman professor (Alicia Barnatchez). They have various episodic adventures along the way which include King Xayno’s daughter Princess Astra (Michele McNally), her sometime lover Barron Ozzric (Jeremy Banks), the wisewoman Lady Actulus (Sabrina Farhi), and Klarff, Prince of the Squirrel Men of the Moon (Matt Sears). There are also two centurions who guard Xayno’s palace (Jesse Bernath and D. Robert Wolcheck).
The show is amusing, but frequently has trouble settling on a comedic tone: sometimes it plays as a straight-up spoof of the worn conventions of 30s sci-fi, but just as often Sproul pulls out the rug by attempting to comically deconstruct the genre and character types, and still more often breaks out of the old-fashioned style to pull cheap larfs from out-of-character contemporary humor. This fitful uncertainty makes the jokes difficult to set up, and as a result the show is confusing and not as funny as it could be.
The stagecraft is mostly excellent- since the play is based on black-and-white serials, all the props, set (Lindsey Moore Sproul and Jak Prince), costumes (Caroline O’Hare), and puppets (Anna Paniccia) are in black-and-white, and some of the actors are lightly daubed with paint to put them in black-and-white themselves (though this is only fitfully effective, as the otherwise-wonderful costumes leave a lot of skin showing). Adam Swiderski’s fight choreography is great, as usual. Ben Lindvall’s original music is excellent. Lindsey Moore Sproul directs with a steady hand.
There are also excellent video elements (Jeremy Mather), which include several of the scenes while the actors are offstage, as well as a few more actors who only appear on film: Sean Williams (as President of Earth), Timothy Mather and Nicolas Marti (as scientists), as well as cameos by Alexis Robbins, Meredith Hackett, Ryan Michele Healey, Alex Knox, Ruby Rinekso, Mark Stochmal, and Jeff Woods. On the whole, the video sections are the most effective portion of the evening, impressively playing like bits of real episodes of the imaginary show; I wonder why the company didn’t simply film the whole thing and release it in serial chapters on YouTube.
SPACE CAPTAIN: Captain of Space
No Tea Productions
The Kraine Theater
(85 E. 4th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)
August 30 - September 15
Thursday and Friday nights as well as Saturdays Sept. 1 and 15 only, at 8pm.
Tickets($20/$17 students & seniors) are available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/261910.
Photo credit Darren Kaminsky: Matt Sears as Klarff, Matthew Wise as Rocky Lazer, and Jeremy Mather as Chip Skipper in Space Captain, Captain of Space