Blinded me with science

Amy Danielson

 

I am speechless. The play I saw his past Friday, if you can call it a play, was among the most unusual and awe-invoking experiences I have ever encountered in a theater. The show caters to those of us who like trashy sci-fi and The Silver Surfer comics. Yet, audiences from all backgrounds can appreciate what this play offers. Be warned, however: People that do not normally spend much time inside theaters (and even some, like me, who do!) will be shocked, amused and amazed by Bedlam Theater’s production of Terminus. It encompasses all that the sci-fi movie has to offer on stageñor, more properly, it encompasses the audience, with a revolving set in the form of a spaceship!

Our ship, The Blue Star, somewhat resembles a beat-up 1968 Plymouth Fury. We’re not sure if it’s still capable of detaching itself from the safety of the ground, but once it does, it’s a hell of a ride. The ship is equipped with all the classic charm void in today’s models in some of the blander science fiction television epics. I particularly miss the old-school command consoles with their pretty flickering lights and multitude of useless buttons. How incredible it is to encounter a theater company that can transform two thousand dollars, a bunch of plywood, dusty keyboards and gray paint into a flying tour de force.

Among the funniestñand most alarmingñmoments in the play comes when Terminus, an enormous robot fashioned out of cardboard and played by Mark Safford, makes its way out of a glowing reactor core and into the main part of the ship, looking for a lost kitten, who is mournfully meowing. The source of the hilarity is Terminus’s vast bulkñyou would never guess his cardboard origins, as he instead appears to be a large, imposing robot with no face to speak of and a protruding black body. His voice is low and eerie as he utters, “Kitty, kitty. Kitty, kitty.” His slow, labored walk equally amuses and horrifiesñespecially those of us seated in the first row. You see, Terminus walks up a significantly inclined ramp with these obtrusive feet that barely fit on the surface of the walkway. The whole time, I couldn’t help but giggle.

Near-holographic projected images of a ghostly being appear the walls of the ship add to the surprising spookiness of this production. In several scenes, Morse code messages transform into floating, dancing words paired with an ethereal voice translating the codeñthe death cries of a lost spaceship crew. These images, accompanied by the horrifying sounds of a fiddle and musical saw, accompanied by smoke slithering out from under the ship create a sense of looming tragedy.

In an early scene, the crew discusses some of the ethical issues regarding artificial intelligence. “Some crackpot’s always saying, save the robots, save the robots. Might as well save the fucking toasters,” one cries out. We need not worry about Terminusñit takes him about half a minute to compute two plus two. Yet, the implications of AI on the future of humanity was a central theme in the story that the play, by Polish science fiction author Stansilaw Lem, that the play is based on. The more humans attempt to progress through their technological manipulations, the more they place themselves at risk. Fortunately, the Bedlam team embraces the ironic humor embedded in Lem’s stories: No matter how serious the discussions become, seen through a far window, every eleven minutes a bottle of gin eclipses the moon. Ahhhhh.

 

Terminus plays through March 10 at the Bedlam Theater, (612) 341-1038.