I saw *Spaceman* at the Loading Dock Theatre on 2/16/19. It’s a one-woman play by Leegrid Stevens about an American astronaut making a solo trip to Mars. It was an extraordinary show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another show in my life that gave such a strong sense of happening RIGHT THEN, not at 3 PM earlier that day, not the next day, not the next week. It was full of theatrical magic and a vital intensity that totally won me over.
The show was a tour de force for the actor, the director, the sound designer, and the lighting designer. The actor was Erin Treadway. My friend David Jay and I had a conversation recently about one-person shows - - he loves them, and one of the things he enjoys most is how the playwright deals with the awkwardness of the actor speaking directly to the audience. This show had it pretty easy, because of course, floating around in space for months on end, she’d be talking to herself!
Treadway did a masterful job of communicating all of the facets of her character, especially the two that she points out herself: “boredom and panic, boredom and panic.” She also excelled in the tender, reflective moments. She’s a very skilled actor and I’d love to see her in more.
It’s a one-woman play but there actually was someone else onstage with her, puppeteer Shawn J. Davis. He had a few moments of actually wielding a puppet, but the most impactful work of the show featured him on the floor, helping create the illusion of zero gravity. I'll give you an example. He was dressed all in black, with a hood over his face, and Treadway, strapped into her chair, snapped a food packet off the stand at her desk - - she brought it towards her and then let go of it. But we hadn’t noticed that Davis had grabbed onto it with his fingers, so it appeared to float in midair. This was a whimsical bit of theatrical magic and I loved it, and was tickled every time it happened in the show.
Director Jacob Titus was given a whole list of problems: how do you convey what it's like to be alone in space? How do you express boredom on the stage without make the audience bored? How do you set up an environment to put the audience in the cockpit of a spacecraft, and do it on (what I'm sure must have been) a limited budget? I used the term "theatrical magic," and Titus was the chief magician. He calibrated all of the elements in the show into one seamless, powerful, dazzling, emotional experience.
The sound design was by the playwright, Leegrid Stevens. The spacecraft was full of hums and tones coming from the machinery, it did a lot to create the atmosphere. There were one or two moments of actual musical underscoring, heightening an emotional moment - - these were handled deftly, they were integrated into the texture and didn’t draw attention to themselves. Some sequences in the show were very loud, I don’t experience that too often in the theatre (at least outside of the opera house), but the volume conveyed the panic and urgency of the situation. One other element of the sound design: the astronaut often speaks with the computer and gets messages from Houston or others on Earth. These were recorded ahead of time by a cast of twelve, and Stevens did an interesting job of varying the texture of the sound.
The lighting design was incredibly beautiful, powerful, and full of variety, a hearty round of bravos to designer Simon Cleveland. He did a lot to set up the atmosphere of the cockpit and the lighting, like the sound design, communicated the drama, sometimes literally, sometimes in a more abstract way. There was a hot pink strobe moment near the end of the show that was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever seen onstage, really unlike anything I’ve seen before.
This show is playing for a few more weeks. If you live in New York, I would strongly urge you to see it. I especially hope that some members of the New York theatrical community go to see the show - - there’s a whole lot of talent on that stage and they’re ready for the big time.
Here's a sort of preview they made, it gives a good sense of what the show looks like: