It cost Warner Brothers a hundred million dollars to make Gravity. It’s probably cost Theatre Of NOTE one or two ten-thousandths of that to stage Entropy, and believe me, the latest from NOTE is a lot more fun than that Oscar-winning Alfonso Cuarón flick. A whole lot more fun.
Replete with 1950s-style “special effects,” Bill Robens’ Mel Brooksian comedy transports us back to those Spy vs. Spy space-race days of the early 1970s.
It’s smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War (with Tricky Dick in the White House and Women’s Lib on the rise) that we find Houston Mission Control set to launch Zeus, the world’s first “green-powered” rocket, a space capsule that looks from the outside like any other manned satellite but runs on a revolutionary blend of photosynthesis and potato-power thanks to inventor-scientist nerd Neil Bradley (Justin Okin).
As the mission’s soon-to-be out-of-control controller Chuck Merrick (David Wilcox) and Chuck’s assistants, estranged couple Benny and Joanna Curtis (Travis Moscinski and Wendi West), pull the switches over in Houston, a trio of astronauts await lift-off inside Zeus.
These are veteran space captain Red Jackson (Trevor H. Olsen), a John Wayne/Clint Eastwood type on his last, pre-retirement mission; male chauvinist playboy Scott Derickson (Nicholas S. Williams), certain he’s God’s gift to the ladies; and America’s very first girl astronette Samantha McKinley (Alina Phelan), the least likely woman on earth (or in space for that matter) to fall for a cocky Hugh Heffner type like Scott.
The intrepid threesome have been sent into space ostensibly to test board games and toys (chess, Parcheesi, yoyos, and the like) in zero gravity, however as Samantha is soon to learn, their mission is one with potentially far more significant Cold War consequences.
It seems that Sputnik, the Russian satellite that set off the space race back in 1957, has begun to develop a mind of its own, a turn of events that has set NASA scientists to thinking (because thinking is what they’re paid to do): What if the U.S. could develop a female robot capable not only of winning Sputnik’s heart but of turning him into a Soviet defector? Wouldn’t that be another feather in America’s red-white-and-blue feathered cap!
Meanwhile back at Mission Control, who should show up to throw a space-monkey wrench into the works but Russian ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin (Brad C. Light) and glamorous Soviet spy Alexandra Mikhailovna (Rebecca Light), a sultry blonde for whom mission controller Benny has carried a torch since way back when she was his (presumably All-American) girlfriend.
Anyone expecting smooth sailing for Zeus and its crew has surely not seen his or her sci-fi flicks, because not only do the craft’s on-board ferns not provide the requisite green power, Captain Red’s out-of-capsule attempts to re-power Zeus may well end up as ill-fated as George Clooney’s in Gravity (if you get my drift).
And did I mention that it’s none other than Sputnik himself who shows up knocking on Zeus’s door with “bleep bloop bleep” on his lips and the heart of an Emily Brontë-loving romantic inside his stainless-steel ball of a body?
The genius of Entropy director Christopher William Johnson and his oh-so ingenious design team is in staging a nine-figure Hollywood extravaganza on a shoestring budget in Theatre Of NOTE’s teeny-tiny Hollywood space, all of this thanks to the Los Angeles 99-Seat Theatre Plan that Actors’ Equity would like nothing better than to laser to smithereens.
Using “technology” that would do Ed Wood proud, prop designer Richard Werner gives us the multiple stages of Zeus’s journey from blast-off to space flight as module separates from module leaving clouds of glitter dust in their wake. Meanwhile, inside the life-sized capsule created by scenic designer Krystyna Łoboda, floating chess pieces, weightless yoyos, and Samantha’s fly-away hair remind us that space travel means zero gravity.
And speaking of zero gravity, just wait till you see how Loboda’s tilted capsule and cast member Williams’ upper body strength make you believe in astronaut Scott’s weightlessness, other zero gravity effects being supplied by black-clad actors doubling as stagehands whose manipulation of carts on rollers and props on poles simulate those extra-special effects that astounded 1950s audiences with their “realism.”
There’s not a comedic weak link in the entire brilliant Theatre Of NOTE cast, one which also includes Kjai Block, Christopher Neiman, Lynn Odell, and Nicole Gabrielle Scipione, and though Hollywood might come up with better known (and far pricier) movie stars, they couldn’t be any more sensational than this baker’s dozen L.A. stage stars, with stage manager Aaron Saldaña up in the sound-and-light booth making it fourteen players in all.
Additional design credits go to Brandon Baruch’s lighting, Kimberly Freed’s costumes, Corwin Evans’ sound, Andrew Leman’s puppets, and Fred Manchento’s model spaceship construction, each and every designer deserving his or her own round of applause as does magic consultant Misty Lee, with special snaps to fight choreographer Jen Albert for putting quite a few cast members through the physical ringer.
Roles are understudied by Gene Michael Barrera, Stacy Benjamin, David Bickford, Christine Breihan, Garrett Hanson, Jo D. Jonz, Arlene Marin, Neiman, Robens, Scipione, and Dan Wingard.
Anyone with back problems should be warned that slightly padded backless bleachers take the place of NOTE’s normally comfier theatrical seating, though truth be told, you’ll probably be having so much fun that you won’t mind any minor discomfort.
Entropy is produced for NOTE by John Money.
If ever there were a production that owes its very existence to the Los Angeles 99-Seat Theatre Plan, Entropy (with its five AEA members and grand total of eleven SAG-AFTRA actors in the cast) is that production.
With only a handful of performances remaining before Hollywood Fringe takes over Theatre Of NOTE, if you want to catch NOTE’s latest before it vanishes into outer space for good, haste is of the essence.
Entropy is one really small/really big show not to be missed.
Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood.
May 24, 2015
Photos: Darrett Sanders