Tom Strini

Time slows down at the Alchemist Theatre

Time traveler Natalie Ryan returns for another on-stage sci-fi comedy adventure.

By - Aug 17th, 2012 02:05 am
The cast of "Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler." Photo courtesy of the artists.

The cast of “Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler.” Photo courtesy of the company.

Unless you’ve been dislocated in time and will see the prequel in your particular future, you might recall that time traveler Natalie Ryan saved the world in May of 2011 in Natalie Ryan and the Brain Thieves. Natalie has to save the world again, in Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler, which opened Thursday at the Alchemist Theatre. The same creative team, writer/director Vince Figueroa and writer/assistant director Beth Lewinski, along with Anna Wolfe as Natalie, are back for the sequel.

This time, mind-controlling aliens would destabilize the time continuum not to destroy the earth, exactly, but to make it so the earth never existed. Now stop and take a moment — if there is such a thing — to get your head around that one. An interesting premise, and one that the playwrights try very hard to make sound logical and scientific via jargon-laden dialogue.


Grace DeWolff (L) and Anna Wolfe. Photo courtesy of the company.

Which brings us to the first problem with this production: The authors want us to take their premise seriously but then make it impossible to take seriously. Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler has one foot in the camp comedy of Saturday Night Live’s Conehead sketches and the other in one of the more deadly serious episodes of the original Star Trek. As a result, it’s not convincing enough to work as drama and not silly enough to work as camp parody. Heart-to-heart mother-daughter talks, alien angst over lost love, and brainiac time conundrums tend to break in just as the comedy gets rolling.

The second problem: The quicksand pacing pacing makes us acutely aware of the passage of time in a negative way apart from the plot. The show plays out in many brief scenes. Between them, the actors bustle about the tiny stage in half-light, turning over and rearranging the boxes and a few pieces of furniture that serve as both the set and painful reminders of the show’s tiny budget. When the lights come up, we see that all the time and effort did little to establish location or atmosphere. A unit set with placards to indicate locale would have been far better.

Problem No. 3: Wildly uneven acting — in terms of skill, scale and style — among the nine performers. Wolfe speeds through her lines and doesn’t project, and thus is barely comprehensible from just a few feet away in this very small theater. Since Natalie does most of the technical explaining, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on and why. Grace DeWolff is far more animated as her sidekick, Agent 4218, and she has a droll way with the undercutting sort of punchline. Libby Amato, very sexy in a Lara Croft sort of get-up, goes straight for the comix bounty-hunter bad girl, without even a nod to reality. Rob Maass channels Mr. Burns as the alien mastermind. His No. 2, Kristoffer Puddicombe, rages and rants out of all proportion with everyone else. Mitchell Bultman makes stand-up comedy of his sleazebucket alien bartender role. Ryan Spiering plays it straight as a character desperate with grief for his dead fiance and vanished planet. But Spiering could be Lee J. Cobb and it would be hard to take him seriously, given the alien canine nose and whiskers.

Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler is a mess as it is, but it has possibilities. Good ideas, clever writing and quite a few good jokes lurk within it. Better focus, a faster pace and clearer direction could make something of it. Figueroa and Lewinski should give it a little more time.

The show runs through through Aug. 16. Order tickets through the Alchemist website.

Also appearing: Lindsey Gagliano, Harry Loeffler-Bell.

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Categories: A/C Feature 3, Theater

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