Red Planet Respite represents a new phase for the San Diego theater group, Circle Circle dot dot. The science fiction comedy/drama is the first show presented as the 2014/2015 resident theatre company of the La Jolla Playhouse.
Set in 2044, GlobalCom Venture Capitals, an American corporation, creates a futuristic resort on Mars. The story follows the men and women who are sent to test out the “luxurious” vacation spot. Unfortunately, after their arrival, events unfold that make their trip to the planet far from a relaxing one.
Too much plot will not be revealed, since a lot of the excitement in the production is in the way writer and director, Artistic Director of CCdd, Katherine Harroff, subverts audiences’ expectations. Most viewers will not be able to accurately predict how the stakes dramatically rise throughout the two-hour evening.
This element of surprise also applies to the way that Harroff and the ensemble handle the flagship crew. At first glance, many of the members of the voyage appear like stereotypical characters, ranging from a popular arrogant doctor (Justin Lang) to a smart, but deeply cynical loner (Jyl Kaneshiro).
However, each team player experiences major changes that result in an unexpected amount of depth. Technical/Managing Director of CCdd, Patrick Kelly, Caitlin Ross, Kevane La’Marr Coleman, as well as Lang and Kaneshiro give hilarious and stirring performances that requires all of them to go through an intense emotional workout.
Two additional actresses equally hold their own with the rest of the cast. Outreach Coordinator of CCdd, Soroya Rowley, gives a physically challenging performance as a robot on Mars, Deimos. Her cheerfully artificial line delivery is reminiscent of an awkwardly cheesy television commercial.
Jacque Wilke brings an absurdly chipper attitude playing a doctor on Mars, Shannon Castron. Her buoyant personality and uproarious laugh provides a sense of optimism throughout Red Planet Respite.
Although the script features well defined individuals that can appeal to non sci-fi fans, Harroff still takes the science aspect seriously. She developed the adventure after consulting with the Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration as well as the School of Theatre, Film, & Dance. Harroff mentions in the program, that the tale was inspired by discussions she had with dedicated Astrophysicists and Space Engineers. This dimension adds to the richness of the original theatrical piece.
Harroff also injects a good amount of satire throughout the space odyssey. The main reason the group is able to go on their journey, is because of an excessive amount of sponsorship. There are clever references to world famous companies, with some of the most inspired allusions courtesy of Deimos.
Harroff creates a surrealistic world with the assistance of several members. Boyd Branch’s projections, Noel Nichols’s lighting design, Kristin McReddie’s costumes and Kristen Flores’s scenery help create a comical environment that is a visual feast.
In addition, Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design incorporates music that would be appropriate in Disney’s Tomorrowland. The musical choices range from lighthearted to wondrous. [php snippet=2]
Although Red Planet Respite is a fresh experience, the opening scene starts things off relatively slowly. The introduction consists of the travelers taking part in a virtual press conference. There are a lot of funny moments, but this sequence could be trimmed by a couple of minutes.
While Act I is playful, the second half gets very dark. The incidents that happen can initially come across as incongruous, but the moments of sadness end up becoming quite effective, especially when thinking about the messages and themes.
Red Planet Respite is a suspenseful achievement from Harroff and CCdd. What a creative way to start out their 4th season.