The year of its telling is unknown, but the story takes place in the 300,000th year of its calendar. As advertised, the play Bears In Space is about bears in space, specifically a pair of recently defrosted pals, Volyova and Bhourghash, and their still-frozen captain, Lazara. They wake in orbit of the city planet Metrotopia, ruled by the megalomaniacal Premier Nico and his right-hand man, Gorax. The news that greets them is that their ship is running out of energy, and soon it won’t be able to support the cryo-systems keeping Lazara in stasis until a cure can be found for her mysterious illness. Theirs is a tale told with much light and music by an isolated band of cave dwellers whose only purpose in life is to tell just such stories.
The Story Keeper, played with quirky narcissistic flourish by Cameron Macauley, introduces his three sons: “Bertram, Darcy, and Lady Susan Vernon. They are slow of wit, but I assure you I have bred them to enjoy nothing more than bringing stories to life.” And do they ever, though by appearances somewhat more begrudgingly than their “father” insists. While Macauley narrates and plays electric guitar, the three futuristic and admittedly morose minstrels, played by Aaron Heffernan, Eoghan Quinn and Jack Gleeson (Game of Thrones fans will recognize this last performer), take up their raggedy avatars and step into the light.
What follows is 80 minutes of absurd (and absurdly creative) hilarity, with references drawn from and caps doffed to dozens of Sci-Fi sources. As the Story Keeper says in the beginning, his collection contains all stories worth telling. That doesn’t mean there can’t be many stories in one. Despite the abundant homage — a dash of Hitchhiker’s Guide here, a hint of Star Wars there — there are so many creative and comedic touches to surprise and delight that the end product feels both fresh and timeless.
Both funny “ha-ha” and funny “strange,” and at a certain point in Bears In Space ceases to be about bears in space and becomes more about the nature and pursuit of love. Platonic love, romantic love, intellectual love…the bases are covered as the boys power through three acts of high-energy allegory. It’s a very thoughtful and layered play, much to the credit of its playwright, Eoghan Quinn again, and all four performers’ agile talent.
It’s true they have the force of youth in them, but they move about the stage breathing life into characters constructed of rags and imagination with more skill than their years would suggest reasonable. They’re sharp and quick on their feet, and when they lift their voices in song the harmony cuts through the dark like a knife. Aaron Heffernan in particular makes overlapping lines and half a dozen accents seem like a breeze.
Director Dan Colley has done wonderful things making the play interesting and accessible. Between the various alternative set pieces, all the different kinds of puppets and the creative uses of light and shadow, the show never lags, never exhausts and delights without faltering in its tone or sacrificing character development for laughs, though it gets plenty of those, too. It has a big, silly heart and isn’t afraid to flaunt it.
Bears in Space
Written by Eoghan Quinn, directed by Dan Colley
Produced by Collapsing Horse and part of 1st Irish at 59E59 Theaters
Through Sunday, October 2, 2016
Photos by Idil Sukan
Top photo: Aaron Heffernan and Eoghan Quinn