Science fiction has long been the purview of film and, to a lesser extent, television. Live theatrical productions of the genre have been few and far between, undoubtedly because of the challenges in staging what we have become accustomed to seeing on screen via the CGI extravaganzas of the past few decades.
Local playwright and former Bohemian contributor David Templeton has taken on those challenges with his latest play Galatea, running now through September 19 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Proof of COVID vaccination and masking are required to attend.
Set in the year 2167 on an Earth-orbiting space station, robot specialist Dr. Margaret Mailer (Sindu Singh) is conducting a sort of therapy session with Seventy-One (Abbey Lee), a recently discovered “synthetic” who is the last known survivor of the spaceship Galatea, a craft that mysteriously disappeared over one hundred years prior and whose wreckage had been discovered decades later.
Seventy-One’s memories of events are spotty at best. Whether those lapses of memory are genuine malfunctions or purposeful deceptions are what Doctors Mailer and Hughes (Chris Schloemp) must determine as they seek to answer the question “What happened to the Galatea?”
Templeton has written an excellent script which has already been recognized with an honorable mention by the 2020 Theatre Bay Area Will Glickman Award committee. The Award is usually presented to the Bay Area’s best new produced play, but eligibility was expanded to include plays whose productions were suspended due to the pandemic as was the case here.
Director Marty Pistone, who counts among his sci-fi credentials an appearance as “Controller #2” in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, has two terrific actors as his leads. Lee, a performer best known for her work in musical comedies, is outstanding in the role of Seventy-One. She takes commonly-accepted robot tropes and brings layers of character to her interpretation. Singh brings warmth, intelligence, and a bulldog’s determination to the role of Dr. Mailer. Two hours of talk on a spaceship may seem a bit dry, but the two parrying back and forth nicely deepens the mystery before ultimately resolving it.
Templeton’s script falters a bit with some overlong comedic bits. Judicious editing and the complete elimination of a superfluous Spielberg-ian epilogue might make for a stronger show.
The design work of Elizabeth Bazzano, Eddy Hansen, and Jessica Johnson combines the familiar with the futuristic and nicely avoids overwhelming the story with gadgetry. The centerpiece is a window on the world of the future, a simple but apt metaphor for the play itself.
By the end of the evening, the question “What happened to the Galatea?” is answered. The question “Will audiences come out for an unknown play?” still hangs thick in the stratosphere.
‘Galatea’ runs through September 19 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thursday – Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm; $12 – $26. 707.588.3400. spreckelsonline.com
Photos by Jeff Thomas
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun.