Review: The Astronaut’s Birthday (Redmoon Theater)

Stellar Spectacle Offers Little Substance

Redmoon projection at MCA

 
Redmoon Theater presents
      
The Astronaut’s Birthday
      
at Museum of Contemporary Art Plaza
220 E. Chicago Avenue
(map)
thru September 26 | tickets: $15-$20  | more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

When someone says Redmoon Theater, I think of two words—crazy and big. It seems practically everything this company does is eccentric on a large scale. I guess if you’re going to be offbeat, you may as well gloriously fly your freak flag as high as you can. The Astronaut’s Birthday, Redmoon’s theatrical partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art, continues in this tradition.

The production is made up of 80-foot tall projections that light up the MCA’s exterior to create comic-book-like panels. By using a combination of live performers, hand-illustrated shadow puppets and colorful stills, the panels come to life with animations reminiscent of old Jonny Quest cartoons. It’s certainly a stunning display that attracts many oohs and aahs. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and I doubt I ever will again.

REDMOON MCA BACKSTAGE PHOTO7

Unfortunately, despite the hours of energy that went into storyboarding, creating and coordinating all these vibrant visual elements, it appears as if little time was given to the piece’s script. It’s not that the tale is too simplistic. It’s obviously aimed at a general audience of children and adults alike. It’s that the 60-minute plot lacks a considerable amount of coherency and characterization.

The story begins when a large black orb crash-lands on rural farmland. Printed on the orb are the words “Send One.” Personally, I thought this was a mysterious message. Send one. Send one what? But the show’s characters don’t miss a beat, instinctively knowing to send an identical orb up into space.

We then meet Al, an elevator operator, his wife and his daughter Lindy. Somehow we discover that within Al’s marble collection is an identical orb. What makes it not just another black marble? Who knows?

Thus Al is shot into space to make contact with what everyone refers to as the Summoner. He discovers that Lindy has sneaked into the ship, and soon both are sent whirling through a space-time continuum. I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, but brace yourselves for a trite and self-contradicting ending that will have you simultaneously scratching your head and rolling your eyes.

On the bright side, composer Jeffrey Allen Thomas’ score adds a thrilling audio layer to the production that enhances the captivating visuals. The music, which incorporates a heavy dose of theremin, captures the 1950s vibe that Redmoon is hoping to achieve.

Taken as an art installation, The Astronaut’s Birthday is like a surreal dream come to life. But taken as a piece of drama, it falls flat. Still, I recommend the production, if only for its novelty. Also, bring a heavy jacket. The show is outdoors.

     
     
Rating: ★★½
     
     

Backstage Photos

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