Blast Radius, the second installment in Mac Rogers’s Honeycomb Trilogy, opens seventeen years after Bill Cooke, All-American Spaceman, returned from a fateful journey. A secret government cabal sent Cooke to scope Mars for terraformation, for they knew our planet was on the brink of environmental collapse and our species on the brink of extinction. But instead of gathering data for a human exodus, Cooke and company discovered an alien race who offered to save the Earth – for a price.
Almost two decades later – nearly a generation in human terms – the aliens have replaced humans as Earth’s biological hegemons. As predicted at the end of Advance Man (the first play of the series) by Cooke’s daughter Ronnie, the cost of our species’ survival is total and abject bondage. It turns out that Bill Cooke’s good intentions paved the road to future-dystopian serfdom: not only have the aliens banned all advanced technology, including electricity, labor-saving machines, and medicine, they have also been fashioning new clothes for us that look suspiciously like something worn by a peasant in a Bruegel painting.
But at least Medieval peasants had Christ and family. Human slavery under the new regime looks worse than Kentucky in 1850. Monogamy is not tolerated, men and women live in separate compounds, and pre-natal care consists of concerned looks and a leather strap to bite down on. (The only missing detail is a creepy eugenics program with giant insect aliens in lab coats.) Evidently, placental gestation and human birth grosses out our insect overlords, so they stay away from the houses set aside for pregnant women. Naturally, this is where resistance fighters foment the revolution, and Ronnie, the resistance’s natural leader, gets pregnant in the first scene to make sure she stays in the human revolutionary hive.
The stakes for Ronnie couldn’t possibly be higher. Either we humans continue to be crushed under the insects’ yoke for the rest of eternity, or we must rise up and commit a genocide on our highly advanced, intelligent overlords. To complicate matters, when the bug ambassador took over the body of Connor the human astronaut, the bugs discovered that they could give up their physical bodies by colonizing our brains. Unfortunately, our consciousnesses have to perish to complete the transformation. This presents a conundrum for the literal minded materialist: If we are merely the sum of our DNA, when the aliens colonize our minds “we” will live on, and the bugs have kept their promise to save us. But if a human is more than a pattern of carbon molecules, if “human” is defined by a mind that transcends the body, then the bugs aren’t saving us at all.
To complicate matters further, Connor, or rather the bug ambassador inhabiting Connor’s evacuated spirit husk, is discovering that being human has unexpected pleasures. And Abbie, Connor’s erstwhile interpreter, Ronnie’s brother, and advocate of alien take-over, has become Connor’s lover. For Abbie, the idea that his brain will be colonized and his “I” extinguished is an orgasmic act of erotic self-sacrifice. The relationship between Connor and Abbie is ground zero for paradoxes of racial mixing, loss of identity, and xenophilia. Connor’s love for Abbie becomes a love for all human beings, and conversely Abbie’s love for Connor implies a hatred of himself and all of humanity.
As with Advance Man, Rogers uses science fiction to interrogate the fundamental, albeit unarticulated, philosophies that support revolutionary politics. On one hand, you have idealists like Abbie who want to obliterate selfishness, passion, and lust. On the other hand, you have pragmatists like Ronnie, who feel supremely justified to commit any kind of atrocity and break any agreement with the enemy in the name of liberty. Add to the mix the deep, human emotions associated with birth and survival, and you have a potent combination of motivators that drive the characters inexorably forward. As I mentioned earlier, genre works for Mr. Rogers because he allows its built-in logic to drive the plot. Consequently, not a scene feels superfluous or out of place, and the action skips along, keeping the audience on the edge of its seat for over two hours. And speaking of genre, Rogers dramatizes his trust in genre to make the right plot choices by making a paperback romance novel Connor’s guide to human emotional complexity.
The actors, particularly Becky Byers as Ronnie, keep the on-stage energy intense throughout the production. I pay the actors, the designers, and the director the highest compliment when I say their work is almost invisible, as the technical seams of the production disappear and the human emotions conveyed take on the appearance of unvarnished reality. This play will keep you on the edge of your seat for two hours. It’s a more intense, satisfying experience than you can get on your couch or in a movie theater.
Through April 14th
@ The Secret Theater, 4402 23rd Street, LIC