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The shuttle Atlantis departed Earth for the last time July 8th.

When manned space exploration makes its next big leap forward, “the right stuff” will no longer be lightning reflexes and nerves of steel, but rather the even-more-uncommon ability to withstand decades of confinement and isolation without losing your mind. In space no one can hear you scream—-which might just be the reason you’re screaming.

Playwright/actor Evan Crump mines the loneliness of the final frontier in FLYBOY, an original drama making its debut at this year’s Fringe. If you’re a sucker like I am for thoughtful, plausible depictions of off-planet life as seen in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, or Duncan Jones’ Moon, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate what Crump has done here.

Set an unspecified number of decades in the future, the piece explores the relationship between the two astronauts who’ve emerged as finalists to helm humankind’s first voyage beyond our solar system—-one a family man, the other a widower. (The roles usually belong to Jonathan W. Colby and Julian Elijah Martinez, respectively, but Crump stepped in as Martinez’s understudy at the performance I saw last Sunday.) Technological advances that Crump has extrapolated from his research into proposed means of fueling deep-space craft make it possible to complete the 25 trillion-mile journey to Alpha Centauri within a human lifetime—-about 43 years, round-trip.

The playwright and producer

Crump’s intense 90-minute play looks at how each man tries to prepare himself for a life accompanied only by books and movies and albums (pretty much every book, movie, and album, but still). Messages from home will be subject to an increasing tape-delay as the cosmic distance they must travel increases—-a delay of years, by the time the craft reaches its destination.

“Loneliness is a theme in all my writing,” says Crump, who has performed in productions with Washington Shakespeare Company, the Keegan Theatre, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, and others. He began writing for the stage through a graduate playwriting course at Mary Baldwin College. His Genesis was voted Best Drama of in the “Pick of the Fringe” Audience Awards at last year’s festival. “What’s lonelier than the thought of leaving everyone behind?” he says.

The theme has its hooks in him deeply enough that he doesn’t mind working with a premise he finds a little farfetched. “I don’t think [NASA or its successor organization] would ever do this to one person,” he admits. “I don’t think that they would trust at all that one person could survive that long with his sanity intact.”

His company, Unstrung Harpist, restaged Genesis outside of the festival last January, and he hopes FLYBOY will have a similar afterlife. Crump says he began working on the piece before he was even aware the Space Shuttle program was ending. It’s just a serendipitous quirk of festival-scheduling calculus that FLYBOY’s opening performance was July 8, the same day the Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on its—-and the shuttle program’s—-final mission.

“The idea of the next generation of astronauts is fascinating to consider, since our current generation, for whatever it was worth, is gone,” Crump says. “One of the questions I’d hoped to ask is what will be required of the next generation—-the ones being asked to go much farther and commit much more.”

FLYBOY is at the Spooky Universe — Universalist National Memorial Church, and will be performed again on this Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively, and on Thursday, July 21 at 6:30 p.m.