By Charise Greene; Directed by Jen Haltman
Produced by Between Two Boroughs
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.17.18
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 6.13.18
Becca Schneider, Jason C. Brown, Dominic F. Russo, Olivia Oguma, and Robin Galloway in Cannibal Galaxy. Photo by Maria Baranova.
BOTTOM LINE: Five lonesome characters struggle for connection as they cope with a mass shooting in this well-produced, well-acted play.
A recent study deemed young people today the loneliest generation in history, lonelier even than the elderly. In what should be the most social period of their lives, twenty-somethings are feeling even more disconnected, without any strong sense of community. The young people of Charise Greene's Cannibal Galaxy certainly seem to be part of this social shift as they suffer in silence and find themselves unable to establish romantic or even platonic relationships with others. The science museum in Washington, D.C. where they all work gives them a chance to connect to humanity and express their dissatisfaction with the world through their scientific presentations.
The most verbose character in the play, Eloise (Olivia Oguma), expresses her fear and anxiety by constantly lamenting the dying planet, informing the museum visitors in an urgent tone that the end is close. Not only has she has abandoned her car and taken to walking everywhere, she also lives in a tree house in order to reduce her carbon footprint. Eloise connects with her fellow employees by avoiding the personal and ranting about new galactic discoveries. Chet (Dominic F. Russo) responds to one of these rants by asking her if she has ever been in a relationship before; it's hardly surprising that she has not. Vadim (Jason C. Brown) seems to be the only one interested in discussing the universe with Eloise. Meanwhile Chet and Claire (Becca Schneider) have some semblance of a romantic connection, but have trouble getting this to manifest into something solid. And when Chet finally shows some confidence, the potential for a strong connection is ruined when a gunman walks into the museum and shoots numerous patrons.
Later, the employees sit in the break room, staring blankly while their clothes are covered in the blood of strangers. Each attempts to deal with the tragedy in different ways. Their chipper boss Jo (Robin Galloway) develops kleptomania, and later fulfills her desire for a baby in a somewhat unconventional way. Claire, meanwhile, cannot stop the pain she feels for the victims whose slaughter she witnessed, and begins to dress up as the puppet she was using the day of the slaughter (even donning a green pig-tailed wig), carrying the puppet with her everywhere like a child with a doll.
Although Greene's script may sometimes seem like an incongruent juxtaposition of tragic plot and comedic action, her characters' candid discussions excavate spot-on truths about our current society and how it helps create the monstrous mass shooter. Themes of isolation and disconnection are pervasive. As an example, Chet attempts to ameliorate these feelings by scrolling through Tinder late at night, only to find women with whom he is fundamentally incompatible but who are still willing to hookup with him. He explains to Eloise that he does this to be seen by another person, pointing out that as he gets older, he will have fewer and fewer people in his life and will become more and more alone.
Tim McMath's fluorescent-lit museum set mirrors the characters' feelings of disconnection. Projections of galaxies and the human brain successfully evoke a large museum and also reflect the bleakness of the world. A small structure serves as the museum's break room; later, walls come down and it turns into part of the museum upon which images are projected. (However, having so much of the play performed far back from the audience makes some of the dialogue difficult to hear). Each of the cast members skillfully maneuvers from dramatic to comedic moments and makes the emotional scenes feel authentic and nuanced, provoking sympathy for the characters, despite their flaws. Cannibal Galaxy tackles familiar ground in a new way, and director Jen Haltman and her team use this unique script as an impetus to create an unusual and innovative theatrical experience that stays in your memory long after the lights come up.
(Cannibal Galaxy: A Love Story plays at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, through June 18, 2018. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Remaining performances are Thursday and Friday at 8; Saturday at 3 and 8; and Sunday at 3. Tickets are $25 and are available at newohiotheatre.org or by calling 866-811-4111. For more information visit Betweentwoboroughs.com.)
Cannibal Galaxy: A Love Story is by Charise Greene. Directed by Jen Haltman. Set Design by Tim McMath. Lighting Design by Kate Bashore. Sound Design by Fan Zhang.
The cast is Robin Galloway, Olivia Oguma, Becca Schneider, Dominic F. Russo, Jason C. Brown, and Jo Yang.