An old man who is an homage to Noam Chomsky is metamorphosed into an owl through the aid of a cloth mask and a print costume with a technician behind him flapping the wings, accompanied by thunderous music and ethereal singing. This bewildering coup de théâtre is the lame finale to the arid Other Than We, the audience’s dubious reward for enduring and staying awake through its two soporific intermission less hours.
Other off-kilter sequences include two stalks of asparagus inserted into an unseen vagina and then eaten, two male actors holding up stuffed animal representations of mutant infants to breastfeed them through their shirts and an actress on all fours giving protracted birth from behind her voluminous skirt. In an exhibition of method acting, the twin mutant newborns are then depicted by what looks like small towels stuffed with laundry that are tenderly held by cast members.
Playwright Karen Malpede’s self-billed “cli-fi fable” is a lofty, smug and scattershot attempt at putting agenda-driven science fiction on the stage.
Like all futurist literature, Other Than We is a metaphor—to be experienced literally, of course, as a high stakes adventure (will they, won’t they, what will be the cost), but to lodge in the mind’s heart as a fable from which some personal truth may be extracted which has meaning to each self, alone.
So begins Ms. Malpede’s lengthy and pedantic program note. There’s more craft and purpose in a Star Trek episode than this play. Considering that Malpede is an established author and academic, Other Than We is striking in its dramatic ineptitude. The leaden dialogue is laden with clunky sci-fi jargon and Chekhovian ruminations making little impact and the extended plot is initially vague. The well-drawn characters are familiar archetypes. Malpede’s ambitious premise is adequately realized by her proficient direction. Beth Graczyk’s movement direction has graceful fluidity, adding liveliness.
I gave birth on the earth. On earth, I gave birth…to a new race.
We’re in the future following “The Deluge,” a climate disaster where the elite live inside of a protective dome, and outside is a barren wilderness. The loving lesbian couple of obstetrician-gynecologist Michelle and professor of linguistics Eve decide that through invitro-fertilization they’ll reproduce a new species comprised of human and animal DNA. These creatures will be a master race able to survive the earth’s harsh environment. Michelle and Eve are assisted in all this by the benevolent Tenaka, a doctor who ran afoul of the oppressive regime and who now works as a janitor. Opa, Eve’s wise as an owl grandfather, gives support as well.
Lisa Birnbaum and Emily Fury Daly respectively portray Michelle and Eve. Ms. Birnbaum and Ms. Daly both exhibit charm and talent with their suitably animated characterizations. As Tenaka, the charismatic Tommie J. Moore is vigorously heroic. The legendary New York City stage fixture George Bartenieff’s cooing Opa is of sustained aged joviality. Mr. Bartenieff is also the co-director.
Costume designers Sally Ann Parsons and Carisa Kelly’s cool futuristic wear is the production’s main strength. Not only do Ms. Parsons and Ms. Kelly achieve visual splendor for the main characters with their gauzy, perfectly colored and coordinated ensembles, they provide neat tailored black and gray outfits for the stage managers who look as if they’re starship crewmembers.
These are the youthful Noah Pyzik and Jen Wiener who silently though appealingly maneuver scenic designer Donald Eastman’s resourceful configuration of wheeled platforms indicating differing locations. Mr. Eastman’s creations achieve an artful and plausible fantasy environment. Other elements are a net that is raised and lowered and a captivating rock.
Composer Arthur Rosen’s zingy score is characteristic of the sci-fi genre with its spacy tones. Mr. Rosen’s sound design adeptly simulates a variety of effects though the braying of the unseen spawn, “The Newbies” is more laughable than compelling. Lighting designer Tony Giovannetti’s superior efforts endows the presentation with optical richness.
Other Than We is performed at La Mama which has a paper-less policy so printed programs are only available after the show by request. Therefore, it would be prudent to peruse the digital program prior to seeing the production. Otherwise, one would likely find one’s self totally lost in space.
Other Than We (through December 1st, 2019)
Theatre Three Collaborative
The Downstairs at La MaMa, 66 East 4th Street in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.theatrethreecollaborative.org
Running time: two hours without an intermission