The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer
nytheatre.com review by Daniel John Kelley
August 15, 2009
The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is played on an extremely small stage in the basement of the HERE Arts Center. The whole piece lasts no longer than 50 minutes. Despite this, the imaginative journey of The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is enormous—both physically and emotionally. It's an epic fantastical puppet/live animation music-filled adventure that's at once heartbreaking and hilarious. If Pixar had a theatrical division, one would think (and hope) they'd create something like this show.
The play is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the world as we know it is totally submerged in water. Alvin Sputnik—our hero, the everyman—sits at the bedside of his sick wife, imploring her through song to live just one more day with him. When his wife dies, her essence falls deep into the ocean—far deeper than Alvin could ever hope to dive on his own. This forces Alvin to join up with a group of courageous heroes, who are each given diving suits in the hope of saving the world. The hero's mantra goes something like this: Though the resources of man are currently nearly depleted, the members of this academy believe there is another world in the core of the earth that has all the resources mankind needs to survive. Unfortunately, finding this world and dislodging it has never been done, and will almost certainly lead to their death. So Alvin suits up, and dives into the briny deep—to find the essence of his dead wife, and to potentially save the world from destruction.
Tim Watts is the creator and sole performer of this piece, playing Alvin as a life-size human, as a large hand puppet, and as a small puppet, as well as the variety of creatures Alvin encounters in the deep. Though he has many hats to wear, Watts manages all of them with style and skill. Though much of the play is very funny—such as a wonderful disco dance duet between small puppet Alvin and a large whale-like creature—Watts is just as comfortable entering into a place of real human emotion. Armed only with a ukulele, Alvin's serenade to his dying wife early on is simple, heartfelt, and moving. It does a great job in grounding Alvin's character, while at the same time, stays true to the style of the piece.
There was only one moment that took me out of the piece, and it came early on: The introduction to the hero academy is done to the much overplayed "O Fortuna" from the Carmina Burana. It's a piece that's been used on everything from the '80s epic Excalibur to Family Guy and Scary Movie to signal "this is the part where something epic happens," and it's an unfortunate choice, as the rest of the piece feels so original.
But this is a minor detail, given the wonderfully fantastic and fun experience that The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer provides. With its combination of hilarity, poignancy, and theatrical ingenuity and imagination, it's something not to be missed this FringeNYC season.