The Final Frontier...

Although things are pretty busy around here, I did manage to carve out some time this evening to hit the theater in support of my friend Jessica, the budding playwright, whose latest work, Space Wars: The Panto! is being produced at the Piccolo Theater in Evanston this holiday season. Justin and I made an evening of it with my friend Jess, from work, who had voiced her interest in the production when I mentioned it at work a couple weeks ago. Jess is both a sci-fi enthusiast and a bit of an anglophile, so the prospect of a panto (a traditionally British form of comedic theater) was particularly appealing to her, and I was happy to help spread the word of Jessica's play to others.

I wouldn't exactly say that Space Wars was my cup of tea -- audience participation and physical comedy don't really appeal to me in any context -- but it seemed that Jessica was right at home in the genre. Her pop culture references, which seemed a little forced in The Trojan War felt wholly appropriate in Space Wars, even if some of them stemmed from a place so nerdy that even I was left in the dark about a great number of them. (The audience needs to be fluent in Battlestar Galactica as well as Dr. Who in addition to Star Trek and Star Wars to get all the jokes.) 

The plot may have been a bit too complicated, drawing the play out longer than it really needed to be, but the audience seemed to be engaged and enjoying the many twists and turns. The show seemed to particularly appeal to the numerous children in the audience, which may have something to do with Jessica's long-time attraction to children's theater. Even if they couldn't get all the references, the slapstick humor and cartoonish staging seemed designed to appeal to kids.

My favorite part of the evening was a black-lit space battle between glow-in-the-dark puppets, which drew on all the relevant conventions from the awesomely bad early sci-fi movies from the 1950s. The actors must also be commended, especially those who were dressed in drag for the duration of the evening (apparently, gender-bending is a panto tradition, which dates back to its origins during the Victorian era), as everyone gave a lively, appropriately campy performance.

Overall, I'd recommend Space Wars: The Panto! for a night of light entertainment, particularly if you're a sci-fi nerd, and even more so if you need to entertain children for the evening. Kudos to Jessica for having another one of her works produced, and for cultivating a longstanding relationship with a theater group (the Piccolo Theater has produced one of Jessica's pantos every holiday season for the past few years now; I just haven't been able to make it in the past.) Congratulations!

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