The Review: New Ohio Theatre’s Cannibal Galaxy: a love story
This group of museum nerds, gathered together and surviving 2015 inside Charise Greene’s new and complex play, Cannibal Galaxy: a love story guide us through the museum showrooms of this twisted tale with wild dexterity and a nervous unfocused passion. It presents a world that succumbs to tragedy at a quick turn of a puppet’s head, and in great need of some love, engagement, honesty, and compassion. These young adults stand bravely center stage, out in front of their eager museum-going visitors, trying their best from a place of passion to instruct and teach us all about our delicate planet and the scientific edge we teeter on. Utilizing the latest scientific ideas projected professionally onto a testy white screen, thanks to some great work from projection designer Yana Birÿkova, we get a glimpse at not only climate change and the brain’s growth and functioning, but somewhere deeper within those Washington DC halls of science, we learn about the very fragile young souls that are our guides, and how the world can break them apart in one brief moment of terrifying tragedy.
The four innocently wander in and out of the staff lunch room opening and closing their lockers, talking about dates, computer games, and scientific discovers before heading out into the bowels of the institution to lecture visitors on the brain and environmental conservation, each with their own brand of confidence or sometimes nervous discomfort, depending on which of the four is doing the talking. Lead by the overly smiley and somewhat plastic supervisor, played with complex dexterity by Robin Galloway, Cannibal Galaxy, directed from an odd edge by Jenn Haltman, starts out swimmingly, letting us slide into their little cubicle of a staff room, giving us time and insight into their quirky personas. Through some well constructed and smart dialogue, we begin to feel connected to their complex stories both inside that staff room and out far beyond what appears to be the safety of the museum walls. The workers give us hints and views of their complicated lives, pulling us in with their idiosyncrasies and engagements, and then, without much of a warning, crack us wide open with a few sharp blasts from a violence none of us can really comprehend. Ripped apart by unspeakable and upsetting horror, the show steps into a different genre, one that has a whole lot more to say then what was first being projected onto those stuttering white walls. This is a show about trauma and pain, and the granular distress we breath into our bodies. It’s also about our ability to take hold of those moments, find a way to purge those particles out of our system, and survive the survival.
The four actors playing these young souls are compelling and doing some pretty fine work stretching out a unique perspective for each as the story moves forward. Much like the spectators of their museum lectures, we as the audience make our way through their stories watching and taking in what we can. Dominic F. Russo as the nervous young Chet inhabit his extreme insecurity and confusion with surprising bravery out into the world, especially when it comes to the nervous and spectacularly drawn Claire, the unhinged fellow worker he wants to engage with far beyond the scientific, portrayed by the unique and powerful Becca Schneider. The confident and seemingly solid Vadim, played with a shy poker hand held too close to his chest by the engaging Jason C. Brown never lets us into his troubled world until life forces his hand by that tragic incident and an inquiring patron, played sweetly by the over-stretched Jo Yang. Yang also slips in and out playing both a counselor and the institutionalized mother of the aggressive smart and extreme conservationist, Eloise, played wonderfully by Olivia Oguma. Each of these characters, including their supervisor have their moments to shine, although as the plays spirals forward into the second half, it stubbles into an oddly convoluted territory where the actors convictions and intentions become more abstract and less clear-minded. In the first half, we were invited to creep quietly inside their minds, but when the madness suddenly reigns down on them midway through, their lives will forever be altered, nor will the play be able to keep on track as wisely as it was doing before. In some ways, when the bullets fly (courtesy of the strong sound design by Fan Zhang), ripping apart the work-place, tragedy is left stained not only on their clothes and skin, but inside their minds and outlooks as well. It breaks apart the thoughtfulness of the museum and the play that surrounds it.
Had the playwright stopped at that traumatic midway point, giving us an intermission to take in what just happened, I believe, when returning to the new and forever changed landscape, a better play could have been teased out by this fine group of actors, one that would have given them the gift of time and exploration to find meaning within the crazed world they were now forced to live within. I know there is pressure to create the perfect 90 minute one act play, and in many cases, that format works magically, keeping an audience tuned in and engaged, but in this case a break and an expansion of the universe past intermission would have only enhanced the intricate storytelling. Why this play had to take place in 2015, I’m not quite sure, as the references to Obama, liberalism, and conservative ideology seems smaller and less important in the whole scheme of things. Trauma and finding a way to move forward with the particles of tragedy inhaled into the blood stream of the survivors is the real story here, and that theme doesn’t get enough space in this scientific galaxy to do it justice. Awkwardly overflowing out of the too small employee lounge on a set that needed a bigger slice of the museum budget (designed by Tim McMath with fun and sometimes ridiculous costuming by Sarah Thea, and good wide lighting by Kate Bashore), the story begs for more leg room. So much happens in that tiny lunch room, that it seems sad that it is forced to be enclosed in such tight boundaries, with the rest of the museum overpowering the surrounding space. Galaxy Cannibal needs to eat up more of that exhibit hall in order to give the story room to really dive into the conversation that is begging to be digested.
Much like the exciting metaphoric news that these science geeks discuss with glee before the defining event, Galaxy 13.16, a galaxy far far away has somehow eaten its neighboring galaxy alive, sucking it deep inside itself like a ravenous cannibal. The dynamic discovery reminds us that we are all just tiny susceptible specks in a scary and dangerous universe, where actions outside of ourselves can irrevocably affect our minds, bodies, and abilities to live safely and confidently in the world. Together a conversation has to begin about staying alive and awake to the dilemma that surrounds us this very day. Gun availability and accessibility must be acknowledged as a problem that needs controlling. Australia, Canada, and others have clearly had that dialogue, leading us to demand that America must come to terms with this same endless chaos and gun problem. The Parkland students that survived their school’s shooting got it right, we must speak up and demand action, as this is the only powerful option that exists in our wild, hungry, and dangerous world. It’s not taking place in a galaxy far far away, but nearby in a school, mall, or museum around the corner, so let’s all stand up, raise our voices, and #resist like we mean it.