Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
Also see Eddie's review of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Deanna: "We have each other."
Nick: "It's not enough."
Five years, four months into a journey that has no end, Nick and Deanna stare out the spaceship's window as Saturn and its rings appear ever closer. Both know what Nick voices, "After Saturn, it's just you and me and a whole lot of nothing." Neither will live long enough ever to see another planet in their projected, straight-ahead path. Both know what the totally committed Deanna keeps reminding the more doubting, ever-depressive Nick is true: This NASA mission in 2062 is "our job, it is our purpose" and "it is not about us." And that purpose includes now turning on the first two incubators of the thousand on boardbabies to be born two at a time, generation after generation, for an eternity. After all, their NASA mission statement is, "Two go up; two are raised; two carry on."
Science fiction takes on all the suspenseful tension of reality-in-the-making in the superbly conceived and produced world premiere of Evan Kokkila-Schumacher's Sojourn at Pear Theatre. Immediately upon entering, audience members may not help but think what both Nick and Deanna say the first time they see their home-for-rest-of-life, "Voyager." (For non-Trekkies, Voyager is the mother ship of Star Trek).
Ting-Na Wang has cleverly created just enough elements in the correct positions to evoke such a response, with the pink, green, and blue lighting of Ben Hemmen providing the right touches to give the starship in front of us all the atmosphere we might expect in a projectile hurtling through outer space. That galactic scene is one we see so awe-inspiringly projected on the screen above, with its millions of stars and the beautiful ball of Saturn (these and later more earth-bound projections of NASA headquarters designed by Caroline Clark). Final convincing touches of the space odyssey come in the guise of what the two astronauts wear (also designed by Caroline Clark with cast help)totally in line with Star Trek-correct fashionand in the mixture of otherworldly chords and music as well as in seat-shaking, bass-woofer rumblings that sound designer Charlie Hoyt has created.
As Deanna, Laura Domingo exudes an evident excitement and energy in her quick, bouncy movements around the cabineyes that glow with wonder as she stares out at the stars and Saturn, and a voice that can hardly contain its emotion as she says, "The galaxy keeps spinning, and I am going to see as much as I can." Nick (Drew Benjamin Jones), on the other hand, is noticeably more subdued in his conversations, slower to show any enthusiasm even about the approaching orb, and quicker suddenly to cry out in loud outbursts with statements like, "I'm not coming back ... I needed to say that out loud and someone to hear it."
Nick is also becoming lax about following NASA procedures and directions. He forgets to sign out Deanna and sign in as himself when he sends messages to the home base. He has not activated the automated system which NASA keeps asking him to do, and he keeps delaying agreeing to turn on the first two incubators (something he and Deanna were supposed to do four years before).
All of these things are issues for a still-supportive but increasingly impatient and frustrated Deanna. They are becoming even more contentious for the crew back in Houston. Thirty-something Marta (Melissa Jones) is the day-to-day contact who sends and receives messages that already take two hours to arrive in either directionvideo, then audio messages that at some point will no longer be able to be seen or heard. She does all she can to show the genuine concern and care she has for the two people she only met briefly before they launched; and her commitment appears deep enough that she would risk her own well-being for theirsa risk she may soon have to take.
Her boss is Garrett, a wily ol' codger who has a lot of experience with NASAsome of it hard earned as the overall project command of the failed Drake Mission, the first set of NASA fatalities since the tragic Colombia mission forty years prior. Richard Holman's Garrett wavers between outward irritation and impatience of the two in space who are not exactly doing everything they have been asked to do by procedure and a clear admiration and love for their courage and especially their mission to explore the galaxy and to start a new race.
But the person on the ground who ignites a firestorm of trouble and controversy at every turn is Kaitlyn, Garrett's boss, who has Congress breathing down her neck about a $300 billion project the public has forgotten and Congress wants to sunset. As Kaitlyn, Cynthia Lagodzinski is a walking, calculated time bomb, ready to explode with targeted but highly logical attacks that are difficult to argue from a fact standpoint, but hard to swallow from the standpoints of peopleboth on the ground and in spacewho have dedicated every waking minute and most sleepless nights for five years to Sojourn. Ms. Lagodzinski is knock-your-socks off, raise-the-hair-on-your-neck excellent as the ever-pressing, take-no-prisoners Kaitlyn.
Under the well-paced, well-timed, well-conceived direction of Caroline Clark, the first act's hour of the two hour, ten minute production is as near perfect as one could ever expect for a first-time outing of a new script. There is constant intrigue, an air of anticipation, and an act-ending surprise that leaves audience almost breathless upon exiting for the intermission, with everyone asking, "What is going to happen now?"
More unanticipated revelations are still to come in act two, including one in the final seconds that elicited an immediate audible reaction at the performance I attended. However, the second act has some sectionsboth on ground as the blame game plays out and in space as Nick sits on the ship's floor with Deanna by his sidethat feel like some editing is needed before the next production. The result might ensure that act is as tight and energy sustaining as the excellent first.
That said, for both science-fiction lovers and anyone who likes a play that mixes mystery, philosophical debates, and political realities with a story that has a very human component, the wonderfully acted and inventively conceived Sojourn at Pear Theatre is a ticket for a rocket ride that must have even playwright Evan Kokkila-Schumacher beaming with sunny pride.
Sojourn, through April 7, 2019, at Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida, Mountain View CA. For information and tickets, visit www.thepear.org or call 650-254-1148.