By Steven Mark Tenney; Directed by Janet Bentley
Produced by Nylon Fusion Theatre Company
Off Off Broadway, Play with Music
Runs through 12.22.19
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
by Ed Malin on 12.12.19
Justy Kosek, Jenna Vezina, and Madisen Nielsen in ray gun say0nara. Photo by Al Foote III.
BOTTOM LINE: ray gun say0nara delivers a metaverse of sci-fi action seasoned with music and dance, future and past.
"What’s the difference between love and the 1950s? One goes on forever." This is one of many memorable exchanges from ray gun say0nara, Steven Mark Tenney’s futuristic music and dance piece with a retro flair and onstage Japanese translation. Nylon Fusion is presenting this intriguing show in repertory with Michaela Jeffery’s The Listening Room.
In the future, we follow the purportedly routine travel plans of the Socket family as they prepare to travel to Antares. While dad Phil Socket (Timothy Babcock) receives a strange phone call and becomes embroiled in political intrigues, young Billie (Sam Ogilvie) finds himself having unexpected adventures. And Millie Socket (Laura Pruden) spends a lot of time looking for her family throughout the metaverse, where all the possible universes come together.
While the Sockets piece together a complicated narrative, the audience has help from our narrator and crooner, Technical Deployment Holdon (Joel Henry Little), who explains the role of the powerful race of Nadirians in human affairs. Yes, the Nadirians have been watching Earth since the 1950s, and decided to save all of us by sending a powerfully good celestial being--teen idol-type Brad Mayhem (Justy Kosek)--down to grow our planet’s potential. But the Nadirians may have mixed up the good Brad Mayhem with his evil counterpart.
The supposedly evil (but perhaps good) Brad was stashed on planet Newsylvia. But it's difficult to extricate him because of the heavy-duty mechanized Automated Self-Driving Units, or ASDUs (portrayed by Kelsey Lea Jones and Randall Rodriguez), which have evolved to preserve the status quo. This has resulted in Brad’s imprisonment, in a state of constant adoration by young women at a succession of princess dances.
But there is hope. You see, many benevolent princesses move through the worlds seeking to right past wrongs, including Arc-Princess Istara (Erin Grant), who has been at this kind of thing for thousands of years. The princesses have arranged to fight for the opposite of the opposite, and have sent a spaceship captained by the dashing Buck Law (Sean Leigh Phillips) on a dark ops mission to unleash Mayhem. For good measure, they also use a divination tool called the Demon Deck, which results in a special message for Ambassador Antonus Equiverté (Mike Roche), which ends up in the hands of bystander Phil Socket.
And these are just the basics of the story, which unfolds through twelve episodes in across two acts. The piece is even more nuanced. The adventure serial format is punctuated by beautiful projections (by the Roly Polys: Janet Bentley and Andy Evan Cohen), while the landscape is enhanced by the vocals of the "Chor" (Olaf Elde, Lizzie Kehoe, Theresa Johnson and others, who are conducted by Rich Wisneski) and the frequent dancing of Yukari Osaka, Ayaka Yoshimoto, Giorgia Riccardi and Madisen Nielsen. Many lines are echoed in Japanese ("kanzen de wa nai / I have not yet completed my arc. I am not perfect yet."), sending multilingual audience members suggestive highlights. The Princess has a Familiar (Joyce Miller), and there is a Dragon Rider (Melina Finck) and Pendragon Rider (Ivette Dumeng). Qinora (Jean Louise O’Sullivan), former Oracle and now undercover agent, provides even more information. And many characters converge on Casa Mezca, the casino where shape-shifting Sylphs (Jacquelyn Avery Greenspan, Alexa Elmy) congregate.
This is an ambitious production with a sweeping arc. Janet Bentley directs the 26 actors/dancers/musicians with tremendous precision, giving personality to humans, robots, Nadirians, and more. Yukari Osaka is both choreographer and one of the dancers; she brings a variety of multicultural influences to this work. While it might seem that such a production would require a set the size of a planet, hats off to Raye Levine for creating flexible set pieces that the ensemble moves as they multitask in the metaverse. Gilbert Lucky Pearto’s lighting is a big help in negotiating the many different, sometimes simultaneous, settings. Special mention also goes to prop designer LiLi Jackson and team, whose princess phone is a major part of the show.
Steven Mark Tenney is the author of not just the script, but also the music and lyrics, which have a yearning, 1950s prom feel. The cinematic score by Topu Lyo and Mike Thies brings in a megaton of ambience. As the narrator, Joel Henry Little, who does double duty as musical director, is the perfect person to be in the spotlight for so many of these moments. Janet Mervin’s costumes, which show us who is good, bad, sophisticated, and indifferent, play a crucial role, especially when a character may be playing their own worst enemy. And in a piece where there is much travel between worlds, some of it involving a jukebox, dare we forget Andy Evan Cohen’s sound design?
(ray gun say0nara plays at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, December 4 - 22, 2019. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Wed 12/4 at 7, Thu 12/5 at 7, Sat 12/7 at 3, Sun 12/8 at 7, Mon 12/9 at 7, Wed 12/11 at 7, Sat 12/14 at 7, Sun 12/15 at 3, Mon 12/16 at 7, Fri 12/20 at 7, Sat 12/21 at 3, and Sun 12/22 at 3. Tickets are $29. For tickets and more information, call 866-811-4111 or visit nylonfusion.org.)
ray gun say0nara is by Steven Mark Tenney. Directed by Janet Bentley. Set Design by Raye Levine. Lighting Design by Gilbert Lucky Pearto. Costume Design by Janet Mervin. Prop Design by LiLi Jackson. Choreography by Yukari Osaka. Sound Design by Andrew Evan Cohen. Score by Topu Lyo and Mike Thies. Projections by the Roly Polys (Janet Bentley and Andy Evan Cohen). Songs (Music and Lyrics) by Steven Mark Tenney. Arrangements by David Tenney. Additional Musical Contributions by Joel Henry Little, David Tenney, and Susan Tenney. Music Director is Joel Henry Little. Saxophonist is Danny Meyer. "Chor" Conductor is Rich Wisneski. Production Stage Manager is Daniel Brothers.
The cast is Timothy Babcock, Dan Chen, Ivette Dumeng, Alexa Elmy, Olaf Eide, Melina Finck, Jacquelyn Avery Greenspan, Erin Grant, Theresa Johnson, Kelsey Lea Jones, Lizzie Kehoe, Justy Kosek, Joel Henry Little, Joyce Miller, Madisen Nielsen, Sam Ogilvie, Yukari Osaka, Jean Louise O’Sullivan, Laura Pruden, Sean Leigh Phillips, Giorgia Riccardi, Mike Roche, Randall Rodriguez, Jenna Vezina, Rich Wisneski, and Ayaka Yoshimoto.