Sitting down to write this review, I stopped and I started many times. Knowing I wanted to tell you, the reader, that Sci-Fest was a collection of stage performances of the like I had never seen. From the moment the lights dimmed, I was impressed with the level of detail that was put into pulling these performances off. Sci-Fest is billed as a festival, initially giving the impression of a convention type atmosphere. When we at GWW started hearing rumblings about it a few months ago, we had conjured up images of booths, special guests, and Trekies rolling out of the mothers basements as far as the eye could see. Though this is California, and we don’t have basements, so like most assumptions, we were very, very wrong. This festival is a collection of one act plays, and for many of us will feel more like a loving homage to our childhoods, when great stories were told with plot twists and mild over acting. The feeling I got throughout the production was one of nostalgia, they felt like throwbacks to great shows of yesteryear like the Twilight Zone.
My wife and I had the privilege of attending Opening Night for Evening ‘A’ on May 6th (Evening ‘A’s’ plays run May 6 – 11, and May 20-25), and the plays, as well as the audience was filled with so many familiar faces. Much of the fun was interacting with so much science fiction royalty in an intimate setting. I think I was a little frozen when Eddie Mcclintock (Warehouse 13) walked up next to me at one point during the evening. First I heard his recognizable voice, then slowly turned my head and gawked at him like the fan boy I try so hard not to be at events like these.
The opening act was “Forwarding Address” by John Paul-Nickel, and even on opening night the cast hit all of the right beats setting the tone for a fun evening. Starring David Blue (Stargate: Universe), Madison McLaughlin (Supernatural), Julie McNiven (Supernatural), Angeline Rose Troy (Just Before I Go), Greg Duke (Alias) and Directed by Jack Kenny (Warehouse 13). Forwarding Address is the short story of two couples that receive a mysterious message as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. The performances were funny at all the right moments and deliciously over the top at others. I heard some of the cast later talking about making a few minor mistakes here and there, but I can only attribute that to how seriously they have taken their roles and the amount of professionalism in which this production has been put on. If these “mistakes” really did take place, I was too wrapped up in the unfolding story to even notice.
In between acts, the theater goes dark to allow for set changes, but helping make the transition between the plays are the high definition displays that are playing clips to
distract the audience from the stage crew performing their duties. At first I thought they were just randomly cut clips, like elevator music to keep us from dying of boredom but not really serving a purpose. Once again, I was wrong. These stylized shorts were actually setting up the story that was about to unfold on the stage in front of us.
Once the short was done, we were seamlessly transitioned into the next play “Freedom of Speech” by Adam Esquenazi Douglas. Starring James Kyson (Heroes, Justified) and Directed by Jon Kroll (Amanda and the Alien). The standout in this production was James, his character unable to speak tells his story to the audience, through facial expression, body language and sheer will. The story centers around his characters reactions to a computerized voice. that is asking him a series of questions after he wakes up from a surgery. The voice actors performance wasn’t washed out or emotionless like it could have been, but instead was empathetic and manipulative in the most unexpected of moments. It was a simple yet effective story that reflects the erosion of our civil rights in modern day society. Putting forth the question, what are we willing to give up for our “freedom”.
After another fun transition that visually alludes to an alien invasion, the next play on the list is “The Ringer” by Minnesota Plates and starring David Dean Bottrell (“Boston Legal” & “True Blood”), Jakob Wedel and Directed by Jim Fall (“Trick”). More than any of the other plays, this one gave me that great Twilight Zone vibe as we are thrust upon the situation of two isolated characters. I really love stories like this, the kind that rely on intrigue and subterfuge to keep you guessing. The characters converse with each other and describe events in ways that you or I normally would when we have past history together. As the audience we are dropped into the middle of an impossible situation and get to watch it unfold on stage for us to enjoy. The end of the Ringer led to a short intermission, only building the excitement for the final play. The intermission was a good chance to get a barometer reading of the audience, and the buzz in and out of the theater was electric. After returning to our seats, we were treated to “Kaleidoscope”.
Like the tagline says “50 years before there was Gravity,” there was “Kaleidoscope” written by Ray Bradbury. How can you have a science fiction festival of one act plays without invoking the undisputed king of science fiction? Well of course the answer is, you can’t. So to round our near perfect evening we were treated to the story of seven astronauts’ sent out on a routine mission that turns deadly when their craft is destroyed. Starring Rico E. Anderson (Star Trek: Renegades), Sheetal Gandhi, Dean Hagland (The X-Files), Frederik Hamel, Alex Rapport, Philip Anthony-Rodriguez (Grimm), Linda Tallman (Babylon 5) and Directed by Pat Towne (“Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage”). Kaleidoscope is a tale depicting the evaporation of morality and the complete hopelessness of 7 astronauts stranded in space with no possibility of survival. The practical effects they used during this play to give the illusion they were floating in space were terrific. A few feet from us was an actor contorting herself in positions to represent weightlessness, but my brain was also translating it as a major abdominal workout. So the look of abject terror on her face, which fit perfectly into the story, could also have been one of pain from the 15 minute abdominal crunch she held. My stomached ached for her, but I also found myself wrapped up completely in her performance as she “floated” off behind us and out of sight. Other actors must have been tethered to walls because their appearance of floating in the darkness was incredibly realistic.
Sci Fest is currently open at the Acme Theater in Los Angeles; it’s an intimate venue without a bad seat in the house. One of the best parts is the opportunity to meet and greet the cast after the performance, many of them having a drink in the bar adjoining the theater. As is often the case in a Geeky relationship, one of the spouses isn’t as nearly enthralled by the culture as the other. Though much of the time my wife enjoys many of the things I drag her to, I know often she is merely humoring me and our children because it’s something we enjoy. One of the biggest compliments I can pay to the cast and crew of Sci-Fest is how much she loved the production as well. Throughout the night she kept leaning over and exclaiming “this is really good” and with that Sci Fest not only gets the Geek thumbs up, but also the Wife seal approval as well. Sci-Fest is a gem that all ages, sexes and walks of life can enjoy. You can pick up your tickets for one of the performances at www.sci-fest.com. Evening “A” has showings available through May 25 and my wife and I anxiously await the opening of Evening “B” on May 13th at 8pm.