Theater Review: A Powerful Space-Shot of ‘Book One’ Fun at OZ

Nemesis_stage8_Photo Sarah Bork HamiltonThe heyday of radio dramas passed before I was born; while graphic novels have been around awhile my teenage daughter is more connected to that format than I am. I got to experience those storytelling forms through the electric filter of theater Friday as OZ presented The Intergalactic Nemesis Live-Action Graphic Novel performing Book One: Target Earth – and no matter what your age or experience with radio dramas or graphic novels this rollicking Sci-Fi ride is a powerful space-shot of delightfully goofy fun.

Austin, Texas is known to many as the capital of the Lone Star State and home to the long-running PBS music mecca known as Austin City Limits. It’s also a center for some of the boldest, most imaginative theater in this country; those who saw the Rude Mechanicals perform at Vanderbilt last year know what I mean. The Intergalactic Nemesis is part of that often-avant-garde creative core – writer and director Jason Neulander was founder and artistic director of the award-winning Salvage Vanguard Theater where he directed and produced more than 50 world premiere plays, musicals and operas.

The show’s development from radio play to stage play to live-action graphic novel with more than 1,200 individually hand-drawn (by Tim Doyle) and colored comic images (by Paul Hanley and Lee Duhig) is a fascinating one (for a great in-depth look at The Intergalactic Nemesis from Austin PBS affiliate KLRU click here.) The production has hit more than 80 venues around the US, UK, and Canada since 2010, including a run at the New Victory Theater on Broadway; Book Two: Robot Planet Rising is already part of the touring mix and this September Book Three: Twin Infinity will premiere in Austin (here’s hoping both those books come to the Music City soon).

Nemesis_stage1_Photo Sarah Bork HamiltonHere’s the deliciously comedic-melodramatic set-up: It’s 1933 and as Book One opens we encounter Pulitzer-winning reporter Molly Sloan and her wet-behind-the-ears assistant Timmy Mendez in the Carpathian Mountains. Before long they face danger but are rescued by Ben Wilcott, who claims to be a librarian from Flagstaff, Ariz. He’s not worried about overdue books these days, though – Wilcott claims he’s trying to stop an upcoming invasion of sludge monsters from the planet Zygon. Sloan and Mendez first think he’s crazy, but after a run-in with the nefarious Mysterion the Magnificent they’re not so sure Wilcott is just loco. With the help of never-say-die adventurer Jean-Pierre Desperois, the trio sets out to make Earth – and more – safe from the Zygonian threat.

What has turned this theatrical project into such an interactive multimedia smash? Well, it’s pretty simple – the hard work of Neulander and his colleagues has produced two entertaining hours that can knock ‘em dead in any galaxy. In front of three vintage microphones stage right actors Danu Uribe, Brock England and Jeffery Mills portray two-dozen named characters (in addition to voicing various background roles) with great energy, sharp transitions and impeccable timing. They understand that playing their characters with clear earnestness provides maximum humor; and their incredible shifting from one role to another in the blinking of an eye is a tough feat they accomplish with the apparent ease that only comes from plenty of good preparation.

No less remarkable is Foley Sound Effects Artist Cami Alys. She stands center stage behind tables laden with various noise-making devices – including a toy truck that provides robotic whirring noises and a hand-cranked wind machine among many others – and makes audial magic. Watching her do so is also a treat, because she is clearly “acting” sounds as well as generating the effects created by Buzz Moran.

IGN1Kenneth Redding, Jr. is a marvel on piano and organ (sometimes playing those instruments simultaneously) performing music composed for the piece by Graham Reynolds. His fingers glide across the keys with speed and touch any pianist would envy; like his fellow on-stage artists Redding’s energy leaps into the enthusiastic audience (in this case an appreciative packed house at OZ) and provides great thrills.

Kudos should also go to Neulander for bringing all the production elements together into a sublimely-paced rocket ride, tech director George “Jedi” Stumberg IV for top-notch lighting and audio execution and company manager Jessie Douglas for keeping all parts of this theatrical train on the tracks. And finally, to OZ President and CEO Tim Ozgener and Artistic Director Lauren Snelling, who saw this show at the Spoleto Festival and brought it to Nashville: thanks for yet another sparkling gem (following Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance last month) in an already unforgettable inaugural season.

Here is the troupe’s official tour trailer:

 

Spaceship-imageThe Intergalactic Nemesis Live-Action Graphic Novel’s Book One: Target Earth concludes its Nashville run at 7 p.m. today (March 8) at OZ (6172 Cockrill Bend Circle). Tickets ($40 for 13 and older; $20 for 12 and younger; Recommended for ages 7-up) and more info on this and upcoming programs are available at OZNashville.com. The show runs two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

*Archive production photos by Sarah Bork Hamilton and artwork by Tim Doyle courtesy of The Intergalactic Nemesis Live-Action Graphic Novel.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).