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Bears in Space

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - September 11, 2016

Aaron Heffernen and Jack Gleeson
Photo by Idil Sukan

Bears in Space, the production by Collapsing Horse that is something of a cult hit in Ireland, Scotland, and England, has entered into orbit at 59E59 Theaters as part of Origin's 1st Irish Festival. As the title and the program stipulate, the play, written by Eoghan Quinn, is about "bears. That are in space." It is also strange, funny, charming, and wonderfully acted by a quartet of performers straight out of a universe inhabited by the likes of Monty Python or conjured up by Lewis Carroll on a particularly trippy day in Wonderland.

We are introduced to the tale by the Story Keeper (Cameron Macaulay), and we meet his three sons (Mr. Quinn, Aaron Heffernen, and Jack Gleeson, whom you may recognize from his role as King Joffrey in Game of Thrones). They are, their father says, "slow of wit," but are nevertheless quite prepared to act out the story that is about to unfold. He also points to some dilapidated shelves, on which sit a shoddy assortment of objects that appear to have been randomly plucked from trash heaps and dumpsters. Among them are the threadbare, raggedy puppets that will be used during the performance.

And so, on to the adventures of bears in space. The year is 300000, and we are aboard the spaceship Quickfast, where Officer Volyova and Officer Bhourghash have been awakened from cryogenic sleep by the ship's computer (the cast members play so many roles, sometimes juggling more than one at a time, it is difficult to sort out who is playing whom at any given moment.) The only other character on board is Captain Lazara (voiced by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman). She is being maintained in a frozen sleep until the others can find a cure for her deadly and highly contagious illness.

The action alternates between the ship and the nearby planet Metrotopia. Volyova stays behind, unwilling to abandon Captain Lazara, with whom he is helplessly in love. Meanwhile, Bhourghash goes down to Metrotopia in search of an energy source to refuel the ship. While there, he has the misfortune of running into the evil Premier Nico and his loyal henchman Gorax. Quickly trapped, our hero winds up in the dreaded jungle prison of Jungolia and must battle his way to safety.

Plot-wise, Bears in Space most resembles those movie serials from yesteryear, Flash Gordon and the like, where week after week the good guys clashed with the bad guys, and honor and courage and sacrifice always won out in the end. That is indeed what happens here. Yet despite the loopy silliness and deliberate low-end production values, you may find yourself growing rather fond of these oddball characters, brought gloriously to life by the cast and director Dan Colley.

More than anything, the show is a tribute to the power of the imagination. It is, therefore, most fitting that the Story Teller ends by addressing us: "I hope you will tell this tale in your own way, over a round of mineral drinks with friends, or to yourself alone in the dark every night." Can't wait for the next episode!

Bears in Space
Through October 2
59E59 Theater B, 59 East 59th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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