The Man From Earth: A Mystery of History

Photo by Reid Gilman

Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth by Richard Schenkman, Hovey Players, 3/9/12-3/24/12,

Reviewed by Anthony Geehan

(Waltham, MA) The phrase “history is written by the victors” is a saying that shows a built in flaw in the study of our past. The idea that a subject that must be completely impartial and factual is weakened when records that are worked with could be exaggerated at some points and completely falsified at others. This concept of incomplete information is the main theme of Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth, the science fiction mystery piece currently being performed by Waltham’s The Hovey Players at The Abbot Memorial Theater.

The Man From Earth takes place in the cabin of a Professor John Oldman (Evin Anderson), a history professor who is mysteriously resigning from his position at a prestigious college soon before he would earn tenure. While he is packing his belongings, he is met by several of his colleagues who throw him an impromptu goodbye party. During the party, a series of questions about John’s past and sudden decision to leave lead John to a strange confession that he is over 14,000 years old and for reasons that he cannot fully explain, has not physically aged since he was about 35. This reveal leads to arguments of historical inaccuracies, scientific implications, and theological discussions as the group attempts to surmise if John is telling the truth, leading the group into a farce, or if he is in fact insane.

Where many sci-fi stories have an issue with plausibility and explanation within their plot, The Man from Earth actually weaves the vagueness of its premise into the story. With the cast being made completely of experts in the fields of biology, history, and archaeology, John’s story comes under its harshest criticism from the characters in the story rather than the audience. Most of these questions are never fully answered, but this stems from John not having any way to explain his own condition and his inability to recall all 14,000 years of his existence.  This acts as a very good analogy for such studies as anthropology, geology, and history, which can strive for the complete truth but cannot account for everything within the field.

The supporting cast acts not just to represent the different perspectives that could be taken when examining John and his history, but also the range of emotions that humanity can show when faced with an unexplained entity. Such characters as anthropologist Dan (Will Dalley) hypothesize what facts could make John’s story true or false while others such as the highly religious Edith (Ginny Carpenter) simply refuse to believe that such things could exist within God’s plan. This theological debate becomes highly important to the story and dominates most of the second act.

The setting of the play is extremely simple and is made up two sections of the stage, one being the inside of the cabin and one being the cabin’s driveway. The simple setting allows for the dialogue to be constant and flow easily, which the play relies on heavily. There are visual cues in the background that imply things about John’s past, which works well for the mystery set up of the story.

If the play has any weak points it would be the somewhat tacked on love story between John and his colleague Sandy (Kate Forrestall). Though the love life of John over his extended life span is something that needs to be touched upon, the new relationship takes up a large amount of the play’s run time and has little effect on the story at large. There is also a definite answer at the very end on whether or not John’s story is true or not, which can be seen as taking away the audience participation in the mystery and also weakening the connection between John and the study of ancient history. These flaws however are small and the play’s impact as both entertainment and an important piece of modern science fiction remain intact. Fans of such morality based sci-fi such as The Twilight Zone or the stories of Kurt Vonnegut would be well off checking it out.

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