I’m George Walker for WFIU Arts
In Jennifer Maisel’s Out of Orbit at the Bloomington Playwrights Project a brilliant planetary geologist and single mother loses her Mars rover and her teen aged daughter. By the end of the richly detailed play she gets both back. The success of the rover’s return is historical and well documented. The success of the mother-daughter reconciliation seems a little more tentative.
Jenny McKnight was a spell binder as the driven scientist Sara. She’s been a carefully courageous striver and fixer all her life. With mission to Mars, Sara’s a little like a new mother. Her clock is set for the daylight wake up of the rover with the night devoted to the fatigued pursuit of the rest of her life. She wears three watches, one for Mars’ time, and one for universal time and the last one for her daughter’s time. When the rover and her daughter are both lost and she can’t fix either, the controlling, fixing, Sara breaks down.
Mia Siffin is a charmer as the teen daughter Lis. She’s a star on the track, but an indifferent student. Sara’s effort to fix her independently minded daughter lead to the discovery that Lis has visual processing disorder. Frankly, I can’t figure out how she has gotten into high school without being able to read, but I’m ignoring that and write it off as a further effort by the playwright to frustrate even Sara’s best efforts at connecting with and fixing her daughter.
Lis connects with Edgar2030 a scary voiced older man on the internet in Out of Orbit. She agrees to meet him and comes upon guitar playing stoner and singer Mathew Waterman. The song is evocative and pretty notable for Waterman’s foray into the upper register. Although he’s a rather passive figure, Lis goes with him for an adventure that she hopes will open the world and unlock her own mind. The kind Waterman goes along with it. To Lis’s disappointment, the adventure isn’t the earth and consciousness shattering experience that she’d hoped for. In fact, it turns out that Waterman wasn’t even the man that she’d set out to meet.
Michael Sheehan plays Chris, a techie who’s the driver of the programming of the rover. He’s definitely an acolyte of Sara’s. Playwright Maisel uses his brief scenes for technical background and a bit of humanity. When rover and daughter are both is missing and Sara seems lost, Chris is a bit unhinged as well. They reach for one another, but physical success is only a frustrating interruption for Sara.
Brantley Goodrich was warm and sometimes funny as Lis’s loyal high school friend Victoria I especially enjoyed their mock competitive teen times. One of the moving scenes of Out of Orbit is the one where Sara talks with her about how happy she was that Lis had such a warm friendship. . It’s Victoria that Lis calls on when she’s ready to come home.
David Wade’s scenic design for Out of Orbit is rich with a back wall wrap of colorful screens. The rest of the set is a kind of gun metal grey with a much used turntable in the middle. Chelsie McPhilimy’s lighting highlights the set and the action with key dramatic elements coming from sound designer Joel Watson.
Jennifer Maisel’s Woodward/Newman award winning Out of Orbit directed by David Sheehan is an award winning evening of involving theatre. It’s on stage in the Ted Jones Playhouse of the BPP plays through April 14.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker