Richard M. Elam, wherever he is, might not approve of NativeAliens Theater Collective's production based on his 1960 book Young Stowaways in Space. But he could not argue the affection with which his rather incredible (in all senses) children's novel has been treated via the interpretation of adapter/director Mark Finley, who has mined it for all its (unconscious) gay subtext. Program notes state it is presented with "tongue planted firmly in cheek," but 40 years later this is probably the only way to view this less-than-classic piece of children's literature, so obscure it's not even available from the New York Public Library.
But for all intents and purposes, this adaptation is presented (you should pardon the expression) straight. Finley has added a framing device, beginning the story in an orphanage, where one of the boys has lost his favorite book. Everyone is completely familiar with the story, and as one starts to recite, they all chime in, and act it out. Best buddies Gary Coleman (Jeffrey Seabaugh) and "Patch" Foster (Robert Locke) sneak out of the orphanage to see the launching of a passenger spaceship, inadvertently (really!) get trapped, and are stowaways.
But Elam's deadly serious prose is ripe for reinterpretation, and no opportunity is missed. The experience of liftoff is a lot like sex - or maybe it only seems that way to those of us with dirty minds. Every friendly overture to the boys seems to have meaning over and above what the words actually say. The cast over-enunciates the overly expository dialogue, with each keeping an absolutely straight (there's that word again!) face.
Of course director Finley doesn't deny an extra ruffle or flourish: two men who get into a space transport vehicle exit a short while later and share a satisfied smoke. A mention of picking someone up is given just enough emphasis to make clear all possible meanings. There is some terrific '60s outer-space-movie-cum-lounge-music used, cartoon chases complete with slow motion, and male bonding with an innocence that could only have flown under the radar of a 1960s audience.
The cast plays it perfectly, keeping everything within the original (assumed) innocence of the story. But the additional edge is there because they are all adults playing children who are playing the space-opera story. They are also well aware of the hideously un-p.c. nature of some of the characters (an Italian chef, a Scot with a thick burr, a female housekeeping robot), giving it commentary just by playing the words as written. Seabaugh was especially good, giving several layers of meaning while crinkling his forehead and knitting his eyebrows ever so innocently.
The set/lighting design by Christian D. Cargill was walls and floor painted blue (with reflective spots), and some simple but very effective outer-space lighting effects. Costumes (by Tomoko Naka) were everyone in white shirts and khakis - only Helen Bessette got to go from evil matron to stewardess to robot. Could this novel ever have been intended as anything but a parody? Or are we all simply jaded beyond belief? Yes, and yes.
Also with Jeffrey J. Bateman, Scott Gilmore, Karen
Greatti, Matt Geraldi, Peter Herrick, and Jodi
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler