Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Is it just a coincidence that, in the turbulent fall of 2015, SUNY Broome Theater has produced a pair of plays under the heading Alien Invasions that focus on the importance of not letting paranoia and mob mentality rule the day? Maybe. But even if the timeliness of Gore Vidal’s Visit To a Small Planet and Rod Serling’s The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street was not planned, the messages conveyed in this pair of sci-fi scripts can easily be connected, however loosely, to current events.
The short program, directed by Katherine Bacon, with clever scenic and lighting design by Craig Saeger, is about 90 minutes long, with one 10-minute intermission. It starts with Vidal’s Cold War-era play about an alien arriving on Earth to make sport of its inhabitants, while possibly destroying their world.
Anyone who remembers the 1960s television show, The Twilight Zone, has probably seen the Monsters… episode. It is produced here with permission from Serling’s daughter, Anne. His connection to Binghamton continues to benefit this community, and the world, sorely in need of his humanitarian sensibility.
Bacon has assembled an ensemble of student actors, many of whom appear in both plays. Dallas Elwood plays the happy alien Kreton in Visit and the trigger-happy Charlie in Monsters. Matthew Waskie plays hungry journalist Roger Spelding, anxious to broadcast an interview with Kreton, in Visit, and a paranoid neighbor, Steve Brand, in Monsters. He hits his stride as Brand, sometimes sounding like Biff in the Back to the Future films. That said, both Elwood and Waskie probably can project less in the recently renamed Angelo Zuccolo Theatre in. It’s a small space with great acoustics.
Megan Voss is campy, cute and surly as General Powers in Visit and also good as Sally, a mom, in Monsters. Also excellent is the slight Elizabeth Youket as Ellen Spelding in Visit and as a believable youngster, Tammy, in Monsters. (Her character is modified from the original boy in the TV episode.)
Christian Webb is animated, funny and forceful in his pair of roles: walnut farmer John Randolph who loves Ellen, and Don, another paranoid neighbor on Maple Street. Poised and beautiful, with a knack for making just the right expressions without overdoing it, is Madison Donaldson, making her SUNY Broome theatrical debut. She is paired twice with Waskie, first as Mrs. Spelding and then as Mrs. Brand.
I loved Ulric Henry as Paul Laurent in Visit, but especially as Mr. Goodman in Monsters. His performances were compelling and understated. And no one has more immediate stage presence in either show than Second Visitor and Alien 1, Tijuanna Chrispin. She grabs your attention without saying much at all.
Also appearing for the first time in a SUNY Broome production are Kayla Heath, Alison Kacmar, Jawuan DeJesus, Gabriella Rush, and Alex Bojan in various supporting roles.
I kept in mind that all of these young actors are just that, young, and honing their craft, and I was hoping while I watched them that my friends and I had been just as good back when we were treading the boards at what was then the Little Theatre. I think our director and professor, Angelo Zuccolo, for whom the space is now named, would have been as proud of these young actors as I know Bacon is. She told me that Thursday’s opening (Nov. 19) served as a preview, and although the ensemble wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of audience response, the actors anticipated it well and went with the flow for the most part.
I also enjoyed Bacon stepping in as narrator for the Twilight Zone episode. In a chic black dress, she keeps everything modern and real.
Behind the scenes are Valentine Monfeusa, Joy Thornton, Warren Bacon, Desiree Moore, Tyler Henderson, Leondra Davis, April Horton, Sabrina Edic, Tanjana Bell, Destiny Nisbett, Tyree Cobbins, Ethan Quick, Hoiban Valasquez, and Kristen Townsend.
This is a theater-heavy weekend in Greater Binghamton, with EPAC, Cider Mill, KNOW and Face It competing to fill their seats, so it is to SUNY Broome performers’ credit that they had as many people in theirs as they did on opening night. The price is right and you’ll be home by nine if you go. But if you see a drone hovering in the street as you approach your corner, be it Maple Street or wherever, don’t be frightened. It may be passing through, on its way to … The Twilight Zone.
IF YO GO: Alien Invasions starts at 7 p.m. today and Saturday (Nov. 20-21) in the Student Center on the SUNY Broome campus. General admission is $8; call the box office at 778-5191. Serling expert Larry Kassan will conduct a Q&A after tonight’s show; Anne Serling will be a special guest in the audience on Saturday. Note: Children under the age of 12 will not be admitted.