You don’t have to consult the Mayan calendar to know that futuristic dystopias are what’s what these days. Though the stage has often considered science fiction and speculative fiction to be subpar, genre-driven pulp, I have long maintained that this movement is far more vibrant and productive than the playwrights’ reflex of rehashing mid-twentieth century Modernism. The work of Flux Theater Ensemble, Gideon Productions, and AntiMatter Collective have brought serious Science Fiction works to the stage in 2012. TerraNOVA Collective brings another Sci-Fi offering to the stage with P. S. Jones and the Frozen City.
I conducted an unscientific survey of theatergoers in my vicinity (thanks Kyle), and I learned that many people (at least one) think Sci-Fi on the stage must have limited special effects and won’t have the zing of Sci-Fi on TV or in the cinema. How are you going to show people going into warp drive? How do you represent incredibly lifelike gynoids? P. S. Jones and the Frozen City offers proof that you don’t need billions of dollars and an army of computer programmers to produce an alien but believable world. Animated backdrops extend the three-dimensionality of the stage, and Eric Wright and The Puppet Kitchen present a uniquely theatrical solution to the problem of reshaping and alienating everyday objects.
Robert Askin’s fantastic tale of the farm boy who turns out to be the universe’s savior colors strictly within the lines of the hero’s journey. The protagonist P. S. Jones (Joe Paulik) works as a serf on a pig farm in the rural farm belt. P. S., whose job is to shovel pig shit all day, is excited when his more handsome but less sincere older brother Benjamin (Preston Martin) is asked by the Glass Spider, Queen of the Frozen City (Sofia Jean Gomez), to come live with her. Later, when P. S. is shoveling away he discovers a giant, green mechanical hand in a pile of pig dung, and with it the ghost of a cowboy (Steven Rishard), whom he follows to the Frozen City to tear down the old order and reconstitute a new one. Along the way he runs from cannibals, gets caught up in an incestuous love triangle, and discovers the green hand gives him the superhuman power to make and control glass.
The story itself doesn’t rise far above its generic antecedents. The Frozen City clearly takes from the Emerald City in Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and P. S. Jones’s life and look are a composite of Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and Spiderman. The spectacle is beautiful and suited for children, but the language and some of the themes are too salty for little ones. Scott Brown nailed it on the head when he called the play’s language “fried-in-motor-oil argot.” In fact, Brown’s take on the entire play is so right on, I encourage you to read it. P. S. Jones is a technological triumph, but as with many things tech, there doesn’t appear to be a ghost in the machine, or at least not one that bears a second viewing. That said, the first take of P. S. Jones is fun and entertaining.
Through December 23rd
@ the New Ohio Theater