Los Angeles Theater Review: SCI-FEST (1st Annual Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival at ACME)

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by Tony Frankel on May 9, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Sci-FestWriter and actor David Dean Bottrell came up with a swell idea for Los Angeles—a science fiction theater festival. Consisting of two different programs, the event known as SCI-FEST opened at the ACME Theatre last Tuesday with Program A, consisting of four one-act plays from the genre (Evening B, which contains five one-acts, premieres on May 13, after which the programs alternate weekly). Each piece has a different director and features some of the biggest stars from Sci-Fi TV and film, a real boon to fans of the genre.

Sci-fest PosterThe amount of artists working on this shin-dig easily outnumbers the theater’s 99-seat capacity. As with any festival, results are expected to be lopsided—which they are. But I truly think Bottrell is on to something, especially given the paucity of science fiction in the theater, and this is an enterprise to be supported.

Sci-Fest 2014 POSTERAs with Theater of the Absurd, science fiction existed long before the category had a name. Scholars still disagree as to the best definition of the field, some going so far as to theorize that scholars such as Plato could be categorized as such. Certainly, it began in earnest with authors whose work was written in science’s nascent period. Among others, there was Jonathan Swift (1726, Gulliver’s Travels), Mary Shelley (1818, Frankenstein), Jules Verne (1869, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), and H.G. Wells (1898, The War of the Worlds). As science became less fiction and more reality in the twentieth century, the art form became even more popular as novelists and short story authors wrote about theories which no longer seemed so far-fetched.

Sci_Fest_posterThe elements of Sci-Fi are much easier to agree upon, and many can be seen in SCI-FEST: Aliens, humanoid computers, mind control, teleportation, alternative timelines, traveling in opposite dimensions, and settings in outer space or a post-apocalyptic world

I agree with Bottrell that Los Angeles has played a huge part in putting the genre of science fiction on the global map, making it the perfect setting for his festival. Georges Méliès may be the grandfather of science fiction film, but most of the Sci-Fi movies and television shows were and still are created in the L.A. area.

Sci-FestLet’s play “Six Degrees of Science Fiction.” A quote from The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling: “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” The Twilight Zone was filmed in L.A. at MGM in Culver City. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury was an Angelino. Bradbury wrote the teleplay “I Sing the Body Electric” for the 100th episode of The Twilight Zone in 1962, turning it into one of his most popular short stories in 1969. Bradbury’s 1951 short story “Kaleidoscope” was adapted by the author into a one-act play in 1975. Kaleidoscope makes up Act II of SCI-FEST’s Program A.

KALEIDOSCOPE by Ray Bradbury (pictured Patricia Tallman, Philip Anthony-Rodriguez, Dean Haglund), part of SCI-FEST at the ACME Theater.Kaleidoscope concerns the crew of a rocket ship which has been exploded apart by a meteor, leaving the seven astronauts—protected by spacesuits with no means of locomotion—to face their death three million miles from earth. The radio transmitters in the helmets are functional, so we hear the crew’s final thoughts and conversations, written in that particularly vibrant poetry inherent in Bradbury’s prose. Knowing their doom is imminent, the captain and his team of four men and two women react in different ways: Some with pure terror, some with cynicism, some with heartlessness, and some with the serenity of a well-lived life.

Kaleidoscope Poster from Sci-FestIn a darkened space with helmets lit from within, the hardworking cast, some of whom hold awkward positions for what seems like an eternity, create knowing characters that basically have no dramatic arc. Dean Hagland of The X-Files is the captain, Hollis, who muses about dreams unfulfilled; Patricia Tallman of Babylon 5 plays Lespere, who remembers the good times; and Philip Anthony-Rodriguez from Grimm is the bitter and provocative Applegate. Rico E. Anderson (Star Trek: Renegades), Sheetal Gandhi, Frederik Hamel, and Alex Rapport round out the rest of the doomed team. The script does not dictate the staging, but director Pat Towne didn’t unleash his imagination and went for a more “realistic” approach (the helmets, actors float-walking up the aisles, Hagland on a chair with his head upside-down). His actors supply the inner turmoil terrifically, but the staging is strangely static for a theater.

Angeline Rose Troy and Greg Duke in FORWARDING ADDRESS, part of SCI-FEST at the ACME Theater.John-Paul Nickel’s Forwarding Address begins Act I: A strange and foreboding messengered letter breaks up the New Year’s celebration of two young couples who are forced to reexamine their relationships. This playlet is a prime example of SCI-FEST’s potential: It’s a simple, well-written, and fascinating idea which refreshingly isn’t stretched out to 90 minutes, as are most modern plays. I loved the story, but unfortunately director Jack Kenny merely blocked the action and completely forgot to create any backstory for his actors, some of whom are pretty awful, and one of James Kyson in FREEDOM OF SPEECH, part of SCI-FEST at the ACME Theater.whom strolls onstage—for no reason at all—with shirt unbuttoned and muscles exposed as if he were auditioning for an action movie.

In Adam Esquenazi Douglas’ Freedom of Speech, a man wakes up bandaged and bewildered with no voice, and finds himself struggling to figure out where he is and why a female HAL 9000 is trying to control him. Director Jon Kroll takes a static piece and creates tension as James Kyson (from Heroes) expresses true panic even as he is mute. The scary, passive-aggressive voiceover is done by Pauley Perrette.

David Dean Bottrell and Jakob Wedel in THE RINGER, part of SCI-FEST at the ACME Theater.In Minnesota Plates’ The Ringer, an alien invasion has holed up Edward (a resolute and understated David Dean Bottrell) and a brave little lad named Max (an astoundingly naturalistic Jakob Wedel) in a Pennsylvania church. With the outside world blocked by the unseen creatures who hover just outside the door, a fatal decision must be made in order to ensure the other’s survival. It’s a slight story and intentionally slow-paced, but Jim Fall’s direction, bolstered by Bottrell’s intensity, ensures we believe the wolf is at the door.

THE RINGER Poster from Sci-FestIt took a cache of cash to put this together. Much of it can be seen in major production values, such as introductions on above-stage video monitors. Ben Rock’s video design and Drew Dalzell’s sound are as top-notch as the most complex Hollywood Blockbuster, and Matt Richter’s lighting contains some nifty special effects, but these are so professional that it almost trumps the well-intentioned but not quite as realistic set designs by David Potts.

Captain Kirk in Star Trek said, “We’ve got to risk implosion. We may explode into the biggest fireball this part of the galaxy has seen, but we’ve got to take that one-in-a-million chance.” It’s a bit of a shaky start for Sci-Fest, neither implosion nor fireball. Personally, I would like to see playlets which are less static and even more disturbing and thought-provoking, but this event definitely has raised my antennae.

Program B:
Ursula Le Guin’s The Wife’s Story (world premiere), directed by Philippe Mora and starring L. Scott Caldwell, star of Lost and Tony Award winner for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
Michael Bernard’s A-li-en the Family, directed by Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) and starring Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), David H. Lawrence, XVII (Heroes), Nelson Ascencio (The Hunger Games), Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager), Jasika Nicole (Fringe), Erich Lane, and Ron Morehouse.
Chie-Hoon Lee’s For the Living, directed by Rob Hollocks and starring Sarah-Jane Dalby (The Watcher), Alan Polonski, and Tyler Vickers.
Soren Kisiel’s Smooth Landings, directed by Steve Kaplan and starring Jeff Gum and Lilly Holleman.
Scott T. Barsotti’s Tell Me Who You See, directed by Jeff Liu and starring West Liang, Angela Lin and Camille Mana.

photos by Alissa Krumlauf

SCI FEST: Program ‘A’
created by David Dean Bottrell
produced by Bottrell with Michael Blaha and Lee Costello
ACME Theatre, 135 N La Brea
program ‘B’ premieres Tues, May 13, 2014
programs rotate weekly, Tues-Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 3:00 pm
scheduled to end on June 1, 2014
for tickets, call (310) 477-2055 or visit www.sci-fest.com


Susan May 10, 2014 at 1:19 am

David Blue and Julie McNiven were in “Forwarding Address” and their acting was fantastic: Relatable, moving, humorous and heartbreaking. No actors were awful. The spastic couple was like that intentionally to balance Julie & David’s couple and to throw the audience. This reviews is awful. BS likes and dislikes. I’d love to read an intelligent, educated review about the play-fest though. Can’t wait for that!

Brad May 10, 2014 at 1:30 am

HA! Susan I totally agree. The first play was delightful. Some amazing actors with heart and some twilight zone like comedy. Freaking loved David Blue’s character! The second was emotional, poignant and rife with social commentary with such amazing acting for a silent role. The third was a bit long but still kept me engaged. I even fogged up at the end. And the staging of Kaleidoscope, was ANYTHING BUT uncreative! It was one of the most interesting and creative aspects of the whole block of plays. Dean Hagland on a medicine ball to imitate floating in space – UPSIDEDOWN! Brilliant.

Russle May 10, 2014 at 1:41 am

Yes, it was clear some of the cast had NOT come from the theater (maybe it was the “TV” directors’ faults instead…who can point fingers?) nor had they really been trained in theater. But for the most part it was great! The star cast pulled it all together as did the great plays & production value.

Christina Cashio May 12, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I believe that “Forwarding Address” was moving and heartbreaking, the actors were amazing and put on a fantastic performance! I was truly captivated by this creative scene!

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