Monday, June 9, 2014

Stranded on Earth, Mamai Theatre Company and Theater Ninjas

Many lives can be divided into “before” and “after” phases, since there is usually at least one big event that marks a significant turning point in our meandering march of life.

And so it is in Stranded On Earth, a co-production of Mamai Theatre Company and Theater Ninjas now playing at the Pilgrim Church in Tremont. Written by local playwright Eric Coble, SOE is part of his “Alexandra Trilogy,” tracing the life of a woman from her 20s (A Girl’s Guide to Coffee), through her middle years (this play), and then on to her dotage in The Velocity of Autumn. The latter play was recently produced on Broadway.

In this one-hander, brilliantly performed by Derdriu Ring and directed by Jeremy Paul, Alexa is a 40-something visual artist who is discussing her life in terms of before and after. She is switching from reports of mundane daily tasks to sweeping, extended poetical ruminations on existence. It’s a daring format for a play, and while there are telling moments throughout, the entire piece seems a bit forced and often a tad trite.

Coble, who is a very successful playwright nationally, is a supremely witty, compassionate and intelligent writer (not to mention an affable and generous human being). He can craft sentences that bristle and heave with such lush imagery that you just want to take a few and cuddle up with them over a glass of brandy.

Unfortunately, he has a tendency to overload his text with so many bulging sentences jammed together that the human ear and mind cannot keep pace.

As Alexa teeters on the fulcrum of the life-changing event in this piece, we feel a soul in the throes of either a revelation or a breakdown. It starts with Alexa lamenting how the sky is always overcast, with the clouds coming lower and lower to Earth. This metaphor works for a while, despite its rather hackneyed “blue skies” foundation and the concluding conceit.

Hanging onto that image throughout, Coble shows how her mind works, and doesn’t, as she grapples with family issues and the more ethereal aspects of her imagination. But since half or more of the show happens inside her head, many of the mini-monologs feel like disconnected, random thoughts that exist in their own sphere apart from the real world.  Individually they are interesting, but taken together they can become dense and frustratingly mystifying.

As Alexa, Ring is splendid—as tight and intense as her pulled-back hair. She admirably conveys the need this woman has to make sense of an existence fraught with banal chores and life-shattering consequences.

If the script gave Alexa (and Ring) more room to breathe, thereby allowing the audience to more fully appreciate her situation, Stranded On Earth would not leave the audience so often on the outside looking in.

Stranded On Earth
Through June 22, produced by Mamai Theatre Company and Theater Ninjas at Pilgrim Church, 2592 W. 14th St.

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