nytheatre.com review by Tess Gill
August 11, 2006
Planet Samovar transports us to a wacky world where aliens define their lives around the idolization of a shiny samovar without having any idea what it means. I think this is an apt analogy for the play as well. It is full of zany fun, but I'm not sure of its overall intent.
The story follows Bolo (played with spirit by the show's creator/producer, Harold Todd) as he falls in love with Princess Snoodle (Mary Theresa Archbold—skillful with her subtle humor) only to be sidetracked by an important mission to Earth to uncover the true meaning of the samovar. He then must bring this knowledge back to Planet Samovar so that his people can be freed from their enslavement to the evil high priest Milotogue, who has used the samovar as a tool to divide the planet into race wars. Meanwhile, giant lava (larva?) spiders are becoming epidemic, threatening to destroy all. The misguided King and Queen are helpless as the events unfold around them. There are several more sub-sub-plots, but you get the gist.
There's a lot going on in this show. Many times all ten actors are on stage at once. I commend the director (Maura Kelley) for capably handling everyone in such a small space. The Earth scene, taking place in the back of a catering hall, is particularly impressive with various choreographed mishaps. There is nothing to speak of with regards to sets (which is typical for a FringeNYC show). Place cards identifying locale work nicely. The production budget clearly went to the costumes (designed by Mark Richard Caswell) and although they look homemade, they're right on. Original music by David Pinkard is used effectively throughout and even a catchy "Planet Samovar" song opens the play, setting the tone for this madcap environment.
One of the most successful elements of Planet Samovar is the spirit of the cast. Although some of the performances are stronger than others, they all work together with full commitment to make this show the best they can. That makes me want to root for them all. Notable characterizations are given by Kenny Wade Marshall as Queen Pigsnarp/Billy Van Sandt and Marc Adam Smith as Markamaar.
Overall, I think the show could be greatly simplified. There is so much exposition to get through with the various subplots that it confuses the main focus of the show. Also, I'm unclear as to the benefit of making this a show geared for adults. Its pithy fun and the over-the-top characters seem more suited to entertaining children, with moms and dads enjoying too. If playwright Maura Kelley explores more the meaning of the samovar and how it affects the people, perhaps the show could be educational as well. I have nothing against entertainment for the sake of entertainment, but I think this story could have gone deeper strengthening the premise they set up from the get-go: what is the meaning of the samovar? I've grown to care about these creatures and it matters to me, darn it!