Robots and Prostitutes Are People Too: CITIZENS OF THE EMPIRE

Photo credit: Jake Scaltreto, no fancy underpants needed here.

Photo credit: Jake Scaltreto, no fancy underpants needed here.

Presented by Boston Public Works
Written by Kevin Mullins
Directed by Lindsay Eagle

January 8-23, 2016
The Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
BPW on Facebook

My apologies to the cast and crew, the death of cultural icon and glam rock god David Bowie has hit me harder than anticipated. This review was delayed by my selfish human emotions.
-Kitty Drexel, Reviewer

“To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.”
Paul R. Ehrlich

“To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.”
Hubert H. Humphrey

(Boston, MA) One of the reasons artists write about the future and/or the past is to show how human behavior remains the same regardless of the passage of time. Human hearts and heads tangle up in the same figurative knots no matter what century it is. Science and the evolution of reason only confuse matters. People will be people until they aren’t anymore.

From the BPW website, a summary of Citizens of the Empire: “Set 800 years in the future, Citizens of the Empire is a space opera* with noblemen turned revolutionaries, union organizing robots, inter-galactic garbagemen, and a madam of a space brothel. Against a backdrop of Imperial balls, space stations, and border planets, a plucky band of rebels risk everything to take on an Empire and change the course of the galaxy forever.” This play not set to music lovingly references science fiction novels and movies from all eras of the genre. From the opening moment so similar from Logan’s Run to the strangled sexual politics straight out of Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone**, this show has a little something for those in love with SF.

There is a great amount of exposition presented in Citizens of the Empire. Mullins throws his audience into the depths of political turmoil. There is a lot of history to cover before the audience fully comprehends just how muffed up his universe is. Its melodramatic history is just as complicated and topsy turvy as our own current history. To expect anything less than a full explanation would hobble the story and confuse his viewers. Mullins clearly cares too much about the genre and his audience to do this.

Most importantly, Mullins focuses on the relationships of his characters within this universe. Even if one didn’t understand the hows or whys of this space opera, one understands the struggle of the characters. Mullins’ characters, through the hard work of the cast, are very real, relatable multidimensional beings. In particular, his attack on the lacking intersectional equalities inherent in his universe is particularly touching. Our heroes are quite literally facing the same difficulties we face today. We can sympathize with their traumas even if we can’t directly relate to them. Plus or minus a few walking, talking Asimovian, Blade Runner-esque droids.

That being said, while the cast is acting the crap out of their roles, Citizens lacks believability in its environment. This isn’t the fault of designers Megan F. Kinneen, Ian King, or Brad Smith. Their work in this production is solid if simple in its effectiveness. Rather, the cast members in conjunction with each other don’t project to the audience a cemented connection to their locations in time and space. We don’t believe that they believe they’re space adventurers with super important missions. This is most noticeable in any/all of the fight scenes, particularly the rapier duels. The choreography works in premise but not in implementation… So much so that anyone put off by such things should wait to see this production. Conversely, the dance sequences by James Hayward were reminiscent of Jane Austen ballroom intrigues.

It is both fortunate and unfortunate that Citizens of the Empire is playing during while the excitement of Stars Wars: The Force Awakens still has the populace by the balls. BPW is riding a lucky but convenient high. There opportunity is ripe to introduce SF theatre to curious newcomers. Were the science fiction-y elements removed, we would still see a play with universal themes and journeys. It isn’t Hamlet in a spaceship, but its dissection of familial and political experience is entirely realistic to the human experience.

Devotees to science fiction will likely enjoy this show. Fans of b-movies that endear even as they distress will likely enjoy it even more. Folks looking for a perfect expression of the human experience through flawless theatrical techniques and tools will not. This is a show to be cherished by a specific crowd. It’s a good time for some of us, for others, there’s other theatre to watch instead.

* We can only help you if you help yourself. Google it, people.
**800 years in the future and you’d think we’d finally get our minds out of each other’s bedrooms and into each other’s freedoms. BUT NO…

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