Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton would have been in attendance on Friday night, sitting with me smiling as I watched the opening of Marooned! A Space Comedy by Alex & Olmsted. Much of the one hour of show was in silence. Sarah Olmsted’s movement work harkens back to these silent film stars and brings their efforts to the forefront.
Marooned is a space comedy for all ages. An astronaut goes on an expedition and ends up marooned, er stuck, on an uninhabited planet. A black hole seems to gobble up her ship, and all she saves is her small robot friend who tries to assist her with efforts for help. They put a distress call into the universe and hope for intelligent life. They get a borage of interesting characters, including a guy I am pretty sure I’ve seen on Tinder before, but not a lot of help in getting home. Eventually, with a little help from the audience, and a cosmic peanut that steals the show, she manages to see earth again.
Alex and Olmsted have won multiple awards for their puppetry and it is obvious why. They make these amazing creatures- robots, aliens, a talking peanut, a talking feather duster, and they all pop to life. They have emotions, feelings, human gestures and mannerisms. As the robot friend and the Astronaut first communicate, it acts like a domesticated animal and the audience responded resoundingly with awes, and coos as if a real pet was on stage.
Where do they get these fabulous toys? They make them! Follow them on social media to see some behind the scenes footage and to get an inside scoop on what they’re working on next! I assume they might be the coolest couple to hang out with Baltimore, if I get an invite over I would hardly decline (wink wink).
Olmsted plays the Astronaut. Her movements mimic a moon walk and sort of look like an underwater ballet or tai chi class. She does not speak the entire time on stage. Her astronaut suit, with beekeeper helmet and lacrosse gloves, fits the mold nicely and allows her to move but still believably be in space. Alex Vernon does all the rest. He operates the puppets and marionettes, makes sound effects, plays the void of space stealing her objects, and more. At first I thought she was probably sweating up a storm by the end, but it might be him that really needs to cool down. I don’t think either sat still for a single second during this one-hour escapade.
Although engaging and enchanting, I also felt like it drug in some spots. I think maybe the utter silence occasionally, coupled with the repetitive movements made it hard to stay focused. Something would also pop up next that regained your attention, but I thought I should mention that for extra-antsy young patrons, there might be moments of the wiggles.
The puppets. Oh the puppets! My favorite was the small green alien with an overlarge arm that tries to wine and dine the lost astronaut. And of course, stealing the show in the end was the cosmic peanut voiced by Vernon’s four-year-old niece. Comic gold. Reminded me of a YouTube series called Kid Snippets (my children used to be addicted to it! Watch “Basketball Class” an instant classic).
The real amazement is also the set and the projections- or, as we called it in the audience, how are they doing that? There is large moon which acts a projection screen for simple visions as well as more complicated items, like a rig with a cell phone (I think) and puppets and voices by Alex in the back somehow being thrown onto the circular screen easily. I really don’t know how they did it, so we’ll say magic and leave it at that.
According to sources, the “gold record” is a real idea. That there was a “message” for creatures encountered during space travel. Now, if they understand English is another story all together I assume, but none the less, it was a “thing.”
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go and take your children to see this wholesome and utterly mesmerizing show! Alex and Olmsted are leaders in their field for a reason. They are the mark all other puppetry is trying to achieve. They throw themselves whole-heartedly into this project and defy logic and time and space to bring you a story of an astronaut who just wants to get home.
Running through May 5th at the Theater Project. Running time about one hour with no intermission.