Friday, May 14, 2004

The Rocket Man

I took in "The Rocket Man" tonight, at the House Theatre, with Meredith, who is in town for some sort of debate team hullaballoo. (And just a brief aside, Meredith will henceforth be known as Professor Smith, or simply The Professor, as that is apparently what she is.) It's written by Phillip Klapperich and put on by the same group of kids who did "Death and Harry Houdini" and "San Valentino and the Melancholy Kid" earlier in the season. The House is doing a swell job putting on live theatre in Chicago and they take risks while staying true to the good ol' Unities. The Rocket Man differs from their previous shows this season in that it wasn't written by Nathan Allen, who served as director this time around, but it still does a lot of neat things.

While the 3D sequence is the most obvious standout of the show, I think the use of dance is more noteworthy. I'm not a dance expert by any means, and I don't know the strict definition of "interpretive dance," but Meredith seems to think that's what it was. I'm more inclined to call it "metaphoric dance," but I don't know if that's a real thing or not. It occurs a few times throughout the play, most notably when Earthling Doug meets Martian Ylla in a dream-world, and later when Doug tries to escape from his Martian captors. The sequence with Ylla is beautiful and it's apparent that both actors have had some ballet training. It's a lovely representation of the first searching and exploratory time you sleep with someone, and it flows with the narrative of the play as a whole. I would have liked to have seen more dancing, or perhaps simply more dance-like rhythmic motions, perhaps in the early Martian sequences, or more prevalently in Doug and Ylla's dreamtime meetings.

The 3D sequence, on the other hand, is neat, but it sticks out and seems unnecessary. I applaud the House for trying new things, and the sequence itself is very well done, but it seems superfluous. It's a trick they might come in handy in a later production, and certainly would seem to be a natural fit in a play that plays reverent homage to 50's sci-fi culture, and it is perhaps a way to avoid staging a scene so similar to those that have come before, but it does little besides go beyond the "wow, neat" factor.

One of the big hurdles they faced in staging this production was the fact that the script calls for several rocket ship blastoffs. They're cleverly done as it is, and it's especially neat when the crew of the rocket ships and those observing the blastoffs switch places, but I can't help but feel there was a better way to do it. I suggested to The Professor using actors in place of the styrofoam rockets, but that might have proven more distracting, or even hokier than necessary if the "rocket costumes" looked even clumsier than someone flying around the rocket ship models; still, while it seems like they're in the ballpark with the method they use, it seems like there could be something better. Again, they took on a challenge, and I respect the methods they used and their ingenuity.

Overall, it's a strong story and the actors are outstanding. The tickets are trading cards of the cast and crew, as with the other shows of the 2003-2004 season, and the themes presented in Houdini and San Valentino run through Rocket Man as well. I was especially taken by Ylla, played by Carolyn Defrin. She plays a Martian girl taken in by the idea that love will always wait, and Doug, played by Chris Mathews, who feels that love can't wait forever. They make a swell pair and I hope to see them both, and the entire cast and crew, when the 04-05 season kicks off in August with a play called "Cave With Man."

"The Rocket Man" is playing through June 26 at the House Theatre at the Viaduct, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago. Give them a call at 773-525-0596 and enjoy their spectacular science-fiction goodness.

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