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Advance Man – Theatre Review

Video games, comics, movies, TV, we cover it all here at Player Affinity, now sit up straight you uncultured oafs because we’re cramming some dramatic art down your throats with a review of a science-fiction off-off-Broadway play that’s running in New York City.  Advance Man by Mac Rogers is the first play in a series of such works called The Honeycomb Trilogy.

Sci-fi theater is hard to come by, but it is becoming more frequent as superheroes, hobbits and other nerdly subcultures make their way into the mainstream.  Mac Rogers has written and performed in more than a few genre plays, but his Honeycomb Trilogy is taking science fiction theatre to a new level.  The first play in the series is about a group of astronauts who suddenly and mysteriously retire after they return from the first manned mission to Mars. 

Despite the premise, Advance Man takes place in an ordinary living room.  There is no space-faring action, laser guns, or futuristic flair; in fact most of the time it plays like a present-day family drama.

 Bill (Sean Williams), the leader of the astronaut team, has been keeping a secret from his family since he returned from space.  His wife Amelia (Kristen Vaughan) thinks he’s cheating on her and hires a private investigator to snoop on him.  Bill and Amelia also have problems with their kids; Ronnie (Becky Byers) is a rebellious girl, while Abbie (David Rosenblatt) is bullied by his schoolmates.  Add in Conor (Jason Howard), Bill’s brain-damaged crewmate and you’d have enough problems to make an interesting little drama, but – oh no – Bill’s secret is much more than an affair.  He’s involved in a vast plot with his former crew, and the audience should be able to figure out very quickly that it has something to do with aliens.

The nature of the aliens is one of the stock sci-fi concepts; I won’t give away any spoilers, but if you’ve read Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers, you’ll know exactly what humanity is facing long before the reveal (In fact, clever audience members might guess this right from the mention of “The Honeycomb Trilogy”). Still, with a running time of two and a half hours it does take quite a while before much in the way of aliens is addressed.

 

Rogers’ story, dialog and characters are all very interesting.  The primary problem with this story is that genre-savvy audiences are likely to be way ahead of the game in terms of what’s going on.  There is also the issue of just how far into the future this takes place.  Aside from the Martian mission, nothing about this setting is remotely out of place with the present day.  This is partially a problem with set, costume and prop design.  The piece doesn’t need everyone running around in silver jumpsuits with Tricorders, but the clothing, furnishing and props all imply that it’s 2011, not even Space Year 2012.

 The cast is very good, especially Williams in the lead.  He switches from a loving family man to a cold-hearted conspiracist in a heartbeat.  As often happens in off-off-Broadway shows, some of the other cast members are too young for their roles though.  These are supposed to be retired astronauts with decades of experience but many cast members seem to be in their 20’s and 30’s.

 

Despite any quibbles over the production, this is still great story and a rare chance for fans of both science fiction and off-off-Broadway theatre to get both in one package.  Plus it’s part of a trilogy and anyone who leaves Advance Man feeling satisfied can look forward to the other pieces in the series.  The second play, Blast Radius premiers at the end of March, and the final installment Sovereign is coming in June.  Advance Man is running through January 29th at the Secret Theater in Queens New York.  More about The Honeycomb Trilogy can be found at: www.macrogers.org

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