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They say: “Priscilla is lost, so she spends her days (and nights) searching for answers. The aliens who call her collect at 3am need those answers, too. Wielding bubble wrap, greeting cards, and dreams, they’re out to save the world in this world-premiere production.”
Ian’s Take: Thoughtful science fiction, the kind that deals more with the metaphysics of the inner space of our minds than with the physics of things blowing up out in space, has been making a welcome comeback at the movies lately, so why not on stage, too? Playwright Walt McGough‘s Priscilla Dreams the Answer manages to be both a heady and emotional take on an aliens-among-us story, along with a healthy dose of often absurd humor. Nu Sass Productions‘ world premiere presentation of this play gives it just the inventive and skillful premiere that it deserves.
At the center is Priscilla (Raven Bonniwell), a meek and misty-eyed young woman who works at a hobby shop by day, and spends her evenings watching game shows and crying herself not quite to sleep, but to a near-sleep dream state that leaves her exhausted and emotionally spent every night. A chorus of four actors narrates her activities and movements, pulling double duty as both the chorus and the other characters in the play: her co-worker Harri, game show contestant Simion, and Zip and Zop, the two aliens who think that Priscilla holds the key to saving both the Earth and their own world.
Quirky touches abound, from the oddball game shows on which Simon appears to the bubble wrap that the aliens install in Priscilla’s apartment to keep her safe from harm. (Director Emily Todd‘s production incorporates a fun bit of audience participation, handing out small sheets of bubble wrap to the audience who, without instruction, instinctively begin adding bubble-snapping sound effects at the appropriate moments of the apartment scenes.) Yet none ever seem precious or overly twee, integrating perfectly into the narrative.
There is a kind of balletic elegance to the production, not just in the literal ballet that Boniwell engages in during the dream sequences, but in the set changes that transform the stage from Priscilla’s apartment to her workplace and back again, and in the way the chorus’ narrations are passed around the stage.
The laughs are all well-earned, particularly those provided by Tiffany Garfinkle, who is absolutely hilarious as Zop, who is defiantly obsessed with the Thus Spoke Zarathustra-soundtracked slide show presentation about the tie between the Earth and their planet that Zip forces her to cut short. It’s the rare example of a joke that a writer comes back to multiple times without it ever feeling forced, mostly because McGough changes the context or the delivery every time.
It’s that kind of attention to detail, both when to give it, and when to hold it back, that makes Priscilla Dreams the Answer so engaging. In a fast-moving 60 minute play, McGough lays out just enough background as to the non-standard rules of the world that he has created — the aliens’ telepathic abilities, Priscilla’s strange tie to Simon, Simon’s connection to a seemingly endless cosmic pool of answers to questions he has no business knowing anything about — to allow us to fill in the blanks with our imaginations. Just as importantly, the small details that give these characters depth and color, and that give us a rooting stake in the play’s romance, are crafted perfectly.
See it if: You admire outsized ambitions paired with the talent to exceed them.
Skip it if: You fatigued of dream-heavy narratives before Inception even got past its first level.