Space Race vs. Galactic Disaster in the Mission
by Benjamin K. Sloan & Barry David Horwitz
As soon as the play “Speed of Light” by Sci-Fi writer Bella Poynton begins, with its simple, logarithmic set, papered with equations, it becomes clear that director Sam Tillis is facing a steep challenge. He is producing a science fiction play that is full of profound emotions, without the otherworldly special effects that make sci-fi movies so alluring and exciting. Tillis is clearly a true sci-fi nerd, who gets his kicks without resorting to epic measures of fiery combustions in outer space and slimy grotesque aliens gnawing at the limbs of earthlings.
Tillis doesn’t need CGI or a green screen; he succeeds in making us feel as if we are in another world, even on a tight budget, using charged language and star-trecky costumes and props. Although the young sci-fi theater Quantum Dragon is still basic and start-up, Tillis and his crew are making dragon strides toward making live, extra-terrestrial theater a hit among millennials.
“Speed of Light” takes place in an outer space warehouse. Decorated with an array of papers riddled with cryptic mathmatics formulas, all in a circular motion around a central cultish emblem, we get an agreeably eerie feeling about our future threatened universe. Mayra Ecazin (Becky Raeta), a brilliant but isolated scientist, is cooped up in the warehouse “think tank” run by her greedy surrogate father, Tazmen Zandt (a serious and slippery Dave Sikula). Tazmen is mostly interested in the profits and galactic acclaim that come from putting his (not her) name on newly patented inventions–not to mention saving the universe.
Mayra has a sweet boyfriend in Frey Pevenzy (a winning Tony Crimele), and a wise, down-to-earth gal-pal in Kip Rakai (a quick-witted, humane Marisa Darabi). But even with all this help, she’s cut-off and the planets are refusing to align.
Poynton’s “Speed of Light” slyly engages with many modern monsters: the impending doom of these planets, clearly the climax of climate change, can only to be averted by the nearly impossible forays of one woman’s mind. Mayra, pronounced Ma-EE-ra, is contracted under her corporate boss to invent a new “speed of light” machine to avert planetary disaster. The planet-eating monsters are bearing down. She lives in a solitary world, and snorts lethal rose-colored dust to achieve unspeakable new ideas. In her depressed, drugged-out state of isolation and dissociation, she may be able to save the world. But her autistic and tortured life lies a bit beyond our empathy.
In addition to her boss, Zandt, who exploits Mayra’s labor and her discoveries, she also has another capitalist suitor in Ferrin Rubinowitz (a witty and wily GreyWolf), a large scale manufacturer and distributor of space age technology. This anti-humanist duo reminds us that the Mission District, where Mojo Theatre stands, has been also been overtaken by techie hipsters and Googlie corporate eyeballs.
The plot, which can be confusing at times, entails much pulling at the strings and disturbing, cryptic emotions of the autistic genius, Mayra.
Raeta plays Mayra as an obsessed, neurotic, and enigmatic figure. Although she is naturally brilliant, her abilities are catalyzed by the dangerously addictive rose-colored powder. She has supposedly developed a nearly indecipherable formula to build a machine for travel at the speed of light. Since the aliens are looming over our planet, and that of her long time friend Valki Oveyna (an ingenious and imposing Celeste Conowitch), she has to come up with answers fast! The women come off better than the men, here, and express more emphathy, and less self-interest than the male profiteers.
Her friendship with Valki is deep and caring, and offers a powerful and sensitive scene between them, as Mayra tries to save her friend’s planet. Their intense scene and others between her and Nevik Kier (Casey Spiegel) offer off-beat relations between creatures from other worlds, even a world of religious brother geniuses, very like a Catholic order.
Quantum Dragon has embarked upon a life-saving space-age journey—and they are buckling down for the long haul to the outer reaches. Can their human elements, full of emotion, begin to save us?
“Speed of Light” by Bella Poynton, by Quantum Dragon Theatre, at Mojo Theatre, San Francisco, plays through Saturday, September 10, 2016. For info: quantumdragon.org
Directed by Sam Tillis. Assistant Director: Jacinta Sutphin. Lighting Design: Cassie Barnes. Costume Design: Brett Jones. Sets & Prop Design: Rachel Kerns. Sound Design: Phil Surtees. Stage Manager: Mercedes Mclean.
Mayra Ecazin: Becky Raeta. Frey Pevenzy: Tony Cirimele. Tazmen Zandt: Dave Sikula. Kip Rakai: Marisa Darabi. Nevik Kier: Casey Spiegel. Ferrin Rubinowitz: GreyWolf. Valki Oveyna: Celeste Conowitch. Additional Voiceover: Christina Bauer.