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Blast Radius: Theater Review

An epic science fiction trilogy about humanity fighting to take back Earth from alien invaders.  Mass Effect?  Nope, it’s The Honeycomb Trilogy, a series of plays currently running off-off-Broadway in New York City. 

The first installment in the series, Advance Man ran back in January.  We quite liked it and were looking forward to the second part, Blast Radius which just opened this week.  Advance Man took place in the future, several years after the first manned flight to Mars.  The astronauts from that mission returned secretly carrying the eggs of an alien species of telepathic space bugs, and one of the crew members, Connor (Very well-played by Jason Howard) has been telepathically possessed by an “Ambassador” from this alien Honeycomb.

Advance Man ends with these aliens successfully launching an invasion of Earth, and Blast Radius starts twelve years later when Humanity has been thoroughly conquered, to “Save us from ourselves”.  Books have been outlawed, as has technology, reducing the world to subsistence farming and serving the hive-mind aliens of the “Honeycomb”.

The entire play is set in the same house where Advance Man took place.  In that play, it was the home of Bill, the leader of the mission to Mars and the person most responsible for letting the alien invasion happen.  In Blast Radius, it’s still inhabited by Bill’s wife Amelia (Kristen Vaughn) and daughter Ronnie (Becky Byers).  Bill and most of the cast from the first play are dead, with the details coyly avoided.  Playwright Mac Rogers only hints at what’s happened in the years between, but these loose ends might be answered when the third and final play hits.

Ronnie, who was out to prevent the invasion in the first play is now secretly part of the resistance, looking for a way to get rid of the aliens.  Ronnie’s brother Abbie (David Rosenblatt) is now a collaborator, working for the aliens.  Abbie is also involved in a romantic relationship with Connor, whose body is still host to one of the aliens.  The audience gets to watch both Ronnie’s plotting with the resistance, and Abbie’s work with the aliens who have a nefarious scheme of their own.  It ultimately results in people on both sides having to make difficult choices in just how important the survival of their species is. 

Like all good science fiction it’s a metaphor for the conflicts that Humanity faces on our own.  The aliens genuinely think that they’re doing the right thing for humanity, having made a pact to “Save our race and we’ll save yours”.  There’s tense drama, and one scene of brutal combat, leaving audiences to ponder just how much they would sacrifice to preserve their own culture.

Because the aliens have destroyed all of humanity’s technology there is no need for futuristic props, set or costumes.  This is a clever science fiction setting that needs no robots, laser beams or space jargon about warp cores. Lighting Designer Jennifer Linn Wilcox did a great job in creating a scheme that resembled candlelight and lanterns, and Sandy Yaklin’s set added authenticity to the story by appearing to be a low tech version of the same house that audiences saw in the first play.  A great touch is that the front door has been modified so that it’s large enough for the aliens to enter.

The aliens don’t actually enter through that door, though.  In fact, they are never actually seen at all. Playwright Rogers, and Director Jordana Williams make sure that the aliens don’t appear in their true form.  In both plays so far, the only aliens we see have “Transitioned” their consciousness into the body of a human victim.  Giant space bugs are often said to be nearby, outside the house, but this is conveyed through sound effects.  This is a very wise choice, because the one scene where characters bring a severed leg from a dead alien onstage resulted in giggles from the audience.  The implied menace from offstage is far more effective than a giant prop bug leg.

Blast Radius drew sobs from the crowd around me at this performance as well, and that’s an impressive feat of drama for a story about space monsters. Anyone who enjoyed Advance Man should definitely continue on with the series.  While mankind’s struggle against hive-mind space bags is far from an original concept, Mac Rogers has created a very unique theatrical experience with the premise, and it’s worth seeing, especially for those who have the opportunity to catch the entire trilogy.  Sci-fi fans who are unlucky enough to have missed the previous show will find that they can easily catch up on the story-so-far, and should enjoy it nearly as much as those who have seen the previous one.

Blast Radius is playing at the Secret Theater in Queens New York through April 14th, and the final installment in the trilogy, Sovereign is coming in June.  More about The Honeycomb Trilogy can be found at: www.macrogers.org


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