Bears in Space is 75 minutes of glorious, galactic goofiness!
The play begins in the Story Keeper’s den, which is something of a cave lined with shelves containing spools, tapes and various unidentifiable detritus. This irascible soul is assisted by his three dimwitted sons Bertram, Darcy and Lady Susan Vernon. Not surprisingly, he prefers Jane Austen, however, as we are humans, he chooses for us a story he feels will resonate and be understood in human language.
The spaceship SS Quickfast is so very fast that if slowed to a trillionth of its speed could still go as fast as an adult male on rollerblades! It is in the perilous position of losing energy. After a 700-year hiatus in cryogenic sleep, the ship’s computer rouses two of the crew members, Officer Volyova, a sweet loyal bear with a lovely Scottish lilt and Officer Bourghash, an amnesiac Russian rescued while floating unconscious in space. The captain, Captain Lazara, is sadly still frozen having picked up a disease sweeping the galaxies for which the crew is searching for a cure.
A Premier Nico, a ruler of unbridled evil and insecurity who has serious Daddy issues, sends the ship’s captain an invitation to visit. It is decided that Bourgash will impersonate the captain and visit said dictator. Alas Nico plans to drug the captain and commandeer the ship.
Bourgash is sent off to the dreaded prison in the jungle where he encounters a variety of creatures many of which are curiously cockney. At that point two of the actors are dealing with one puppet on each hand. Bhourghash encounters a Spanish (ish), swashbuckling galactic bounty hunter with his own soundtrack who has a very sad story of being a bear just left out in the rain too long while it was raining bad dreams, and agrees to help him escape.
Along the way they meet Skin, a comically demonic jungle creature who seems to be in a relationship with a cassette recording with someone named Clem. Skin is gleefully cannibalistic, lonely and has no intention of helping.
All of the above is executed in masterful puppetry. Part of what makes this piece so engaging and unusual is that there is no attempt to hide the puppet masters. The actors are front and center, each with a very individual ursine creature on his hand and very distinctive characters of their own. The set is quiet enough to leave them to their own devices, the periodic music provided by the Story Keeper’s electric guitar, just right.
The performers are quirky, hilarious and unpredictable. The audience is drawn into a world that is frenetic, ironic and utterly hilarious without being given a moment to breathe between plot changes.
The costumes are casual hipster, some in shorts to be modified only slightly by Nico who has some very interesting eyewear.
The cast of Jack Gleeson, Aaron Heffernon, Cameron Macauly and Eoghan Quinn so clearly have the time of their lives performing together that their energy and glee are infectious. Judging by a look at the script, there is clearly room for any improvisations they want to make.
The projections, which are somehow reminiscent of WW2 era cartoons and posters, are often achieved by having a cast member kneel on the floor holding up what is essentially a stencil in front of a very home made screen.
Go see this play. It will make you happy!