Tuesday, April 03, 2012

THEATER: Blast Radius

Photo/Deborah Alexander
Twelve years ago, dying aliens were found on an expedition to Mars, and their ambassador managed to convince the astronauts to smuggle the seeds of their race back to Earth, so that they might save themselves and humanity in the process. They, of course, lied, and swiftly enslaved the human race, turning them into little more than Medieval farmers and breeders. Now that you're caught up on the events of Advance Man, the first part in the Honeycomb Trilogy, you can fully enjoy the positive side of all that grim groundwork: Blast Radius, the second part in Mac Rogers's ambitious science-fiction theater. This engaging work from Gideon Productions taps into the themes of humanity that made his Universal Robots so compelling, and is both a heartbreakingly bleak look at our rebellion and, like third-season Battlestar Galactica, a useful mirror in understanding the nature of terrorism. (Oh, yeah: humanity's last chance is to gather fifty-one suicide bombers in an attempt to topple one of the massive hives of the alien invaders.)

Although there's no need to have seen Advance Man in order to enjoy this sequel, those who have will appreciate all of the distress set designer Sandy Yaklin has put into this once-charming home in Coral Gables, FL, as well as the murkier lighting that Jennifer Linn Wilcox has brought to the clandestine meetings occurring there. Those just tuning in, however, will thrill to see the evolution of these characters. The Honeycomb's ambassador, Conor (Jason Howard), has now fully acclimated to his human body, putting his newfound appreciation of "individuality" to the task of loving, body and soul, his fellow human ambassador, Abbie (David Rosenblatt). Meanwhile, as Conor grows more human, mourning the illness afflicting his proxy (and Abbie's actual) mother Amelia (Kristen Vaughan), Abbie comes across as a spoiled brat, abusing his powers in the hopes of squashing the futile resistance he believes (correctly) his sister Ronnie (Becky Byers) to be mounting, convinced that humanity will only be saved once it no longer exists -- i.e., once it has been assimilated into a beautiful, ever-loving, single mind. As for Ronnie, her teenage rebellion has blossomed into a fully justified war, one in which she no longer has to stand alone, well-matched as she is by the wisdom of her co-leader, Shirley (Nancy Sirianni), and the strength of her beloved Peck (Adam Swiderski).

Providing both comic relief and emotional release -- Rogers is skilled at tugging your heartstrings via vibrations in your funny bone -- are some of the other laborers: Joe Mathers is a delight as the simple-minded and outspoken Jimmy, as is his co-worker, the more restrained (but not necessarily wiser) Dev (played by Seth Shelden). The knowledge that they must be convinced to die so that humanity might live is made more tragic by the presence of their loved ones: bitter, hyper-intelligent Clem (Alisha Spielmann) and sweet, maternal Fee (Felicia Hudson). Also joining this large ensemble are Tash (Amy Lee Pearsall), a woman pushed the brink of despair by the loss of her child, and Willa (a terrific Cotton Wright), a "skin" like Conor, who has been sent to infiltrate the resistance (and to provide further contrast between the species).

Rogers's strengths lie in making the familiar foreign and then cleverly showing us, once more, what we'd forgotten. The fractures between Abbie and Ronnie as well as the new connections between Abbie and Conor help to question the nature of love, humanity, and identity -- all while still providing a healthy dose of action (nicely choreographed by Mathers). Blast Radius is also aided by the return of Jordana Williams, who also directed the first installment and is thereby able to squeeze even more out of the parallels between the two parts (watch Conor teaching Willa how to walk as Amelia looks on). The few weak moments -- largely scenes that don't really end, and the odd transitions between them (was that a didgeridoo?) -- are at least handled quickly, keeping us in the moment, ever expanding and maximizing the final impact of Blast Radius.

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