Written by Eoghan Quinn; Directed by Dan Colley
Produced by Collapsing Horse Theater Company
Part of Origin’s 1st Irish Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play/Puppetry
Runs through 10.2.16
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 9.14.16
Aaron Heffernan and Jack Gleason in Bears In Space. Photo by Idil Sukan.
BOTTOM LINE: Like Pigs In Space, but funnier and crazier.
Gather round the guitar-strumming storyteller (Cameron Macaulay) who is the keeper of all of the stories ever produced, or at least the ones he deems worthy. This demanding, somewhat off-kilter narrator, who shouts at the audience to be silent, is a lover of Jane Austen and has named his three sons Bertram, Darcy and Lady Susan Vernon. They may be slow-witted (at least according to him), but he’s made minions of them as they give life to his favorite tales. He chooses “Bears In Space,” about the inhabitants of the SS Quickfast, who have just awakened from seven hundred years of cryogenic stasis.
On the SS Quickfast are several cosmonaut bears, including amnesiac officer Bhourgash (Eoghan Quinn), picked up centuries ago with no memories of his life previously. And then there's protective officer Volyova (Aaron Heffernan), in unrequited love with the (female) Captain, who remains frozen due to an illness that has taken out many across the Seven Sectors. There’s also the sensitive Computer (Jack Gleeson), which reports the ship is low on fuel. They’ve stopped above a planet called Metrotopia. The mission: to find a cure for the Captain and to restore the spacecraft.
Impatient with Volyova’s romantic pinings and in search of adventure, Bhourgash decides to pretend to be the Captain and leave the ship. Trouble finds them in the form of Metrotopia’s dictatorial mayor, the narcissistic human Premier Nico (Gleeson), and Gorax, his puppet second-in-command (Heffernan). Nico tells his people of his daring exploits, none of which are actually true, instead sending uncooperative captains to his prison, Jungolia, which is the fate that awaits Bhourgash. Before the ship and its Captain can be saved, there’s an escape, a slow-mo gun fight, friendship renewed, and a declaration of love.
Gleeson, late of Game of Thrones, founded Collapsing Horse with Heffernan, Quinn, and director Dan Colley four years ago after meeting at Dublin's Trinity College. The company has done multiple productions across the pond, but this is the first in the U.S. There are a lot of laughs, courtesy of Quinn’s writing and performance. Macaulay hits all the right notes as the imperious paterfamilias. I also enjoyed the jungle sequence between Bhourgash and a bounty hunter bear, played by Heffernan, who assumes a Latino accent for his over-the-top regaling of his past, all accompanied by Macaulay’s perfectly-timed dramatic guitar chords.
I hadn’t seen much of Gleeson’s work as the murderous King Joffrey, but he has great comedic instincts, from the computer that tells jokes to lighten the mood, to the Premier with daddy issues, to Skins, a completely nuts character in the jungle who has bones and a tape recorder for best friends. Heffernan, who’s also the puppet designer, is terrific, with a versatility that allows him to play romantic, diabolical, and tragic-comic. Colley runs a well-oiled production with abundant props (including a fantastic diorama!) and actors doing triple duty; he keeps the antics absurd without them becoming silly or slapsticky. Sure, Bears in Space is not a very deep or meaningful show. But the four actors are clearly having a great deal of fun, and so will you.
(Bears in Space plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through October 2, 2016. Running time is 80 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:15; Fridays at 8:15; Saturdays at 2:15 and 8:15; and Sundays at 7:15. On Sunday October 2 the performance is at 3:15, not 7:15. Tickets are $35. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200, or visit 59e59.org.)
Bears In Space is by Eoghan Quinn. Directed by Dan Colley. Puppetry Design is by Aaron Heffernan. Composer and Sound Design is by Cameron Macaulay. Lighting Re-Design is by Abigail Hoke-Brady. Production Stage Manager is Eoin Kilkenny. Stage Manager is Sofia Montgomery.
The Cast is Jack Gleeson, Aaron Heffernan, Cameron Macaulay, and Eoghan Quinn.