By Donna Herman
Origin’s 1st Irish Festival is presenting “Bears in Space” at 59e59 Theaters. If you’re a Star Wars fan you’ve probably heard the rampant rumors that Episode VIII is being filmed under that title, but this ain’t that. Or perhaps you’ve heard of the tiny miscroscopic creatures called space bears, but named tardigrades, which are the only known living beings that can survive unaided in space. Good for you. This play has nothing to do with them either. In fact, it might be a misnomer to call this production a “play”. It’s basically a 75 minute puppet/comedy/lo-fi/sci-fi sketch that was written by Eoghan Quinn, but no doubt dreamed up by a couple of mates enjoying a toke or a pint (or three) on a Saturday night. I’m guessing they are the other ridiculously talented members of the Irish based theater company, Collapsing Horse, that developed, produced and performs the piece.
You really can’t get too over-analytical about “Bears In Space.” It’s a razor-sharp romp, a leave-your-grumpy-day-at-the-door good time, that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is excitingly professional, crisp and grown up without being idiotic or slapstick. Nor do you have to worry about taking grandma or junior. There’s no sex or violence although there’s a little sweet G-rated romance and a couple of scary dudes who won’t give you nightmares. Nor is there any bad language. Only smart, witty, fast-paced, nuanced dialog that you need to listen to carefully in order to wring every drop of humor and cultural reference from.
We open up in the Story Keeper’s den that looks like an attic in your great Uncle Edward’s house where every dusty relic of the family has gone to molder and disintegrate into oblivion. The Story Keeper (Cameron Macaulay), who claims to have at his disposal every story in the universe worth telling, and who is a Jane Austen aficionado, is attended by his three idiot sons Bertram, Darcy and Lady Susan Vernon. He proceeds to instruct his sons, who, he assures us, have been bred to the task, to tell us the story entitled “Bears in Space.” A tale of two bear cosmonauts who have been sent out into the galaxy in the year 300,000 to explore the far reaches of the universe.
The three sons act out all the parts including Volyova (Aaron Heffernan) the lovesick cosmonaut with the Scottish accent, Bhourgash (Eoghan Quinn) the rescued Russian bear, Premier Nico (Jack Gleeson) the megalomaniacal dictator of the city-planet Metrotopia. They switch rolls, puppets, props and accents deftly and hilariously, never missing a beat. What plot there is – other than the opportunity for the cast to show off their comedy chops – revolves around the crew of the spaceship Quickfast’s mission to find a cure for their captain’s illness, Premier Nico’s desire to keep the inhabitants of his city-planet enslaved and working for his aggrandizement, Volyova’s undeclared love for the cryogenically frozen Captain Lazara and Bhourgash’s need to prove himself a worthy bear. But really, don’t look for nuanced story craft from the Story Keeper. Enjoy the incredibly detailed and fine character work by the performers. Especially Aaron Heffernan who completely and thoroughly inhabits his role as the son every second he is not portraying one of the detailed and distinct characters in the story. Enjoy the sharp dialog by the writer Eoghan Quinn, who also captures your heart as Bhourgash the would-be captain. Enjoy the two close-to-the-edge characters of Premier Nico and Skin, the Gollum-like creature found in the jungle prison (I told you not to dwell on the plot) portrayed by Jack Gleeson of “Game of Thrones” fame. And enjoy the wonderfully lo-fi production values which have story titles shown against a piece of material using cut-outs and a flashlight wielded by the Story Keeper’s sons.
“Bears in Space” written by Eoghan Quinn, directed by Dan Colley
CAST: Jack Gleeson, Aaron Heffernan, Cameron Macauley, Eoghan Quinn