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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'Space Issues' has performance issues

Special to The Advertiser


11 p.m. Friday, Saturday

University of Hawai'i-Manoa Earle Ernst Lab Theatre

$10 general admission; $8 UH faculty/staff, seniors, students and military, $5 UH-Manoa students with current validated student ID



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The mission of the Late Lab series in the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre is to experiment. The 11 p.m. curtain time and the small playing space tucked behind the main stage assure small, dedicated or curious audiences.

So it's the perfect venue to take a big risk. If the result is an equally big thud, well, everybody learns by it, right?

Wesley Johnson dares to go where no one has gone before in the Lab Theatre with his science fiction world premiere of "I Have Space Issues (So Back Off My Starship.)" He, his director and cast earn merit points for courage, but the show still needs lots and lots of work.

Already eight years in the making, the project is obviously a labor of love for Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate with a master's degree in music composition who credits the 1970s rock band Gentle Giant as his inspiration in fusing musical styles.

Unfortunately, to an unsophisticated ear, the synthesizer soundtrack and the cast vocals sound thin, unimaginative and, sadly, too much alike. Despite their provocative titles "My Esophagus Is Yours," "Blast My Troubles Away," "I Love Cheese" they blend together and seem to be interchangeable.

When you've heard all of them, you've heard one.

The characters on the starship's captain's bridge are stock sci-fi types, as is the exotic alien at a remote video screen, and the voice of AIMI, the ship's artificial-intelligence musical interface.

The book is something about peace and war and the personal failure of an imperious Captain who descends to nibbling on cheddar. It begins, promisingly enough, with "Welcome Aboard" and a sung collection of information from the crew, since the audience is going along with the battleship on its maiden voyage as a passenger vessel.

Program notes follow suit: "In case of depressurization, you will die a quick and painless death, so don't panic."

But the setting also locks director Jenn Thomas into rigid postures as the crew members either sit at their computers or gather at the communications screen. Occasionally they also manage some lock-step choreography.

The idea of a musical comedy science fiction spoof is a good one, but the material must be fresh and smooth enough for everyone to share in the fun. "I Have Space Issues" plays too much like an indulgent inside joke.

Joseph T. Rozmiarek has been reviewing Hawai'i theater since 1973.