Theatre Funhouse: How We Went to Mars could do with a bit more thrust
Mostly remembered as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke isn’t a name you readily associate with zany comedy. So it’s to Scotch and Cookies Theatre’s credit that they’ve managed to track down this ripping and deliberately silly yarn from Clarke’s juvenelia period. As you’d guess from the title and the year of its publication (1938), How We Got to Mars is one great big fib, a none-too-subtle satirical nudge at H.G. Wells’ and Jules Verne’s rusty nuts-and-bolts space travel tales.
The show takes the form of an illustrated lecture delivered by eccentric adventurer-boffin, Charles Willis, who claims to have beaten all competition to the Red Planet with the aid of his trusty space jalopy, a gaggle of fellow enthusiasts, and a safety pin. Once there, he and his chums encounter a super-intelligent and rather bad-tempered race of Martians who grouchily take them on a tour of their futuristic megapolis.
All jolly good fun, you’d think, and the show does nicely capture the colorful proto-geekiness of 20s and 30s sci-fi pulp (the publicity material brilliantly disguises itself as a mock-up mag called “Arresting Tales”.) The slides Willis uses to substantiate his claims are also pleasingly bonkers.
But in the absence of anything more substantial, the gag soon starts to run out of oxygen. Which is a real shame, partly because that publicity material promises so much, mostly because the actor flying solo up there is Chris Nachaj, who as local critics have pointed out is one of the most committed and gifted young actors around (full disclosure here: Chris once acted in one of my plays, very much to its advantage).
It’s thanks to him that the show achieves lift-off at all, his blimpish Edwardian relic initially browbeating the audience into appreciative guffaws. But the show’s increasing resemblance to an over-extended Monty Python sketch eventually leaves him drifting aimlessly.
At Scene-Voir Stage, 4247 St-Dominique