MARS: Population 1
nytheatre.com review by Kelly Aliano
August 15, 2009
MARS: Population 1, written, directed, and performed by James Allerdyce, presents the journey of the first man to travel to Mars. The audience meets the astronaut as he is about to make his landing on the Red Planet. A storm at the planet's surface causes his landing pod to crash land, inflicting much damage to the craft. The heart of the play takes place within this small vessel as he faces almost certain death; his oxygen tanks are damaged, leaving him with only a limited supply of air, maybe enough for 30 minutes at most, while help is at least 40 minutes away.
Allerdyce creates the entire world of his ship—the parameters, the control panels, even the speed and cabin pressure—and his interplanetary trip through the use of his body in precise physical movement combinations. He manipulates imaginary buttons and levers throughout his mimed spaceship; he is so consistent that it is easy to remember where things are within the ship and to follow exactly what he is doing at each moment. He is assisted by Lauren Wright's compelling lighting design that suggests both his location and his mental state as well as a detailed sound design (by Jerry Morris and Allerdyce) encompassing all of the surrounding noises created by and near his ship. Allerdyce performs in perfect rhythm with these sound effects; it is easy to believe that his actions are actually creating the noises. His movements synchronize perfectly with the sounds, coinciding to bring the play's setting to life.
The piece compellingly raises the question of the value of the sacrifices inherent in both attaining a personal goal and in the pursuit of national glory, recognition, or fame. Allerdyce contemplates the importance of the day-to-day in light of how the Earth can seem so small from far away. He also grapples with prioritizing a greater good against the importance of the individual.
There are moments of real poignancy in the text, notably during the astronaut's hallucination of discussions with his daughter, as well as in the performer's adept movements on stage. There is some truly fascinating material at stake in this piece. The work is somewhat inconsistent, particularly as the play winds toward its conclusion, though its high points greatly outweigh its flaws.
MARS: Population 1 is an interesting experiment in the place of science fiction within theatre. This work could open the door for many more plays that present and confront sci-fi material. This genre is largely undiscovered territory in dramatic work, and this play suggests a great deal of potential in bringing such source material to the stage. Allerdyce proves that even the outer reaches of the solar system could prove a viable inspiration for theatre.