One World, Many Stories: “The Earthroom”

Photo by Paul Fox.

Presented by Fresh Ink Theatre
Written by Marge Buckley
Directed by Rebecca Bradshaw
Fight choreography by Omar Robinson
Dramaturgy by Sarah Schnebly

May 3-18, 2019
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Fresh Ink on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Disclaimer: I auditioned for this production, and was not cast. It is my opinion that only a jackass would allow rejection, a natural process of auditioning, to taint their review.

(Boston, MA) Playwright Marge Buckley has a unique aptitude to balance quirky comedy with human truths. Her science fiction play The Earth Room merges family dynamics with interplanetary conquest with urban planning. It all bounces off the larger issue of mental health avoidance. Human beings may colonize Mars; they may even invent the holodeck, but they will still be inherently guided by human nature.  

It’s the future and Earthlings have built a colony for humans on Mars. They live sterile lives in sterile hamster tunnel-like cities and almost no one goes outside. Parents George (Scot Colford) and Jitterbug (Mal Malme) know that their move to Mars was the best decision for their family. Ari (Grace Trapnell) and Malia (Kiara Caridad Stewart) are teenagers about it. Their comings and going revolve around House, an interactive AI housekeeping program (Jane Reagan), and the earth room, an immersive virtual reality closet that reproduces Earth pleasurable experiences. All systems are normal until George’s addiction to the earth Room forces Jitterbug to shut it down indefinitely. The family dynamic erupts into chaos as each copes with the shutdown in their own ways.

The Earth Room is currently two different plays existing in one performance. The first half of the production introduces our characters through expositional relationship scenarios. The second half of the play communicates the problem the characters are attempting to solve amidst several subplots. The two halves do not make a whole… But, maybe they aren’t meant to.

The dramatic elements that complicate The Earth Room’s storyline are also the very elements that make it compelling: the characters are funny, likable and have clear relationships with each other; their problems are relatable. The Mars that Buckley shows us is familiar; we could soon be living in such a society. These are multifaceted people living in a multifaceted dimension. Unfortunately, there are too many subplots fighting for attention in the same play. This two-hour long dramedy can’t sustain itself with everything that’s going on.

Despite its inability to self-sustain, it’s good material.It’s not unreasonable to desire to tell every story available to these characters. For example, after the earth room is shut down by Jitterbug, it becomes both a transceiver for encrypted messages as well as a surveillance tool. Also, House develops its own personality at the request of its humans. These subplots have the potential to explore what compassionate AI technology might mean to a society currently incapable of compassion for other races much less machines. There’s enough material in this play for a TV mini-series on SYFY. It’s too much for one evening of theatre.

The scenic and sound design are Sprockets meets a grey-scale millennium falcon. It’s futuristic funk at its most minimalist. The costumes by Chelsea Kerl capture a 90’s vintage vibe while observing an architectural presence. The sterility of future Mars necessitates a color-blocked, layered look to combat all of that monochrome Martian sand.  

The camaraderie of the Earth Room cast is commendable. They are what make this play enjoyable art. If one removed the honeycombed set dressings, the groovy diegetic tencho, or the even the light fight choreo, you’d have a family trying its best to love each other. Sometimes it takes several tries and, if you’re lucky like this cast, it only takes one.

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