Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sci-Fi Theater: Advance Man

Here come the Martian Martians!
credit: Deborah Alexander

The Secret Theater
written by Mac Rogers
directed by Jordana Williams
January 13, 2012

When you trek out to Long Island City for a play about the first manned mission to Mars, you don't expect to see a beige living-room onstage. Instead of interplanetary action, Advance Man lifts its plot from a 1950s B-movie about pod people infiltrating suburbia. A housewife suspects her husband, the all-American captain of that Mars-shot, of an extramarital affair. But the truth is scarier: he and his crew have invited an insectoid race to save civilization from itself. Are they helping to found a planetary utopia or delivering humanity into slavery? Will all individuality be lost to a hive mind—and is that a bad thing? Part of the appeal of Advance Man's ambiguities is the knowledge that it's just the first play of The Honeycomb Trilogy; the plot will thicken with Blast Radius in April, and all questions will (hopefully) be answered by Sovereign in June.

As the first act of a longer drama, Advance Man suffers from the necessity of delivering backstory. The solution should be to establish a strong tone. And Mac Rogers' script tries to balance domestic melodrama—a troubled marriage, a hellion daughter—with sci-fi thriller. But director Jordana Williams doesn't exploit the seepage of weirdness into a suburban living room. And like even the most classic of '50s B-movie SF, the quality of performance is uneven. Fortunately, the pivotal roles go to the most consistently strong actors: Sean Williams (that gee-whiz captain), Becky Byers (his rebellious daughter), Abraham Makany (a surly astronaut). And Jason Howard steals the show as the victim of a mysterious accident on Mars. As his character's secrets come out, Advance Man picks up the pace. With the Martian invasion underway, part two is more likely to be fun theater, for sci-fi fans at least. Hopefully, it'll leave the living room behind.


Advance Man plays at the Secret Theater (44-02 23rd Street), closing on January 29. Tickets?

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