Review: Ephemera (Polarity Ensemble Theatre)


The last lost in space cadets


Kaelan Strouse and Kim Boler - Ephemera

Polarity Ensemble Theatre presents
Written by Bryce Wissel
Directed by Laura Sturm
at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map)
through May 1  |  tickets: $19  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

You have to hand it to Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s latest production, a daffy space opera called Ephemera. It wings its charming way through its almost stream-of-consciousness universe while, at the same time, interjecting notes of wisdom and flashes of sobering reality. Not so sobering that it subverts its comic balance—playwright Bryce Wissel challenges his characters but never allows them to sink into maudlin self-pity or self-absorption. Directed by Laura Sturm, Ephemera does that delicate dance of riffing on well-worn and outlandish tropes from sci-fi, creates a few new ones on its own, while nodding to the obvious drawbacks of a life suspended in space. The crew of orbital space station Ephemera shows all the wear and tear of living the most ungrounded of existences but that hardly keeps them from playing out all their individual idiosyncrasies, even to the living end.

Kim Boler and Jonas Gray - EphemeraPresented in “installments” by greeter Androids 1 and 2 (Hilary Holbrook and Sarah Grant), the story begins with Ephemera’s crew discovering a talking monkey trapped in its airlock. The monkey, Davy (played with superb body language by Charley Jordan) was the original test monkey sent into space during NASA’s early exploration days. Perhaps–and only perhaps–decades of exposure to interstellar radiation have speeded his evolution to the point where he can hold affable conversation, jovially drink down the station’s alcohol and hit on Colonel Kate McBride (Kim Boler). True to sci-fi/action thriller formula, Kate’s the only female on board–so, of course, Davy’s not Kate’s only suitor. Manuel (Kaelan Strouse), an android who was probably weaned on Telemundo programming, exerts all his exuberant Latin charm to woo her–not to mention showboat the audience.

As hotly pursued as Kate is, it’s through her we discover the darker aspects of Ephemera’s nut-house environment—they have been on board, orbiting Earth, for who knows how long or for what purpose. There’s been no communication from Earth and they all have no memory of any time before they were there. “I don’t even know if we came here willingly,” she plaintively tells Davy. It quickly becomes clear that the crew’s behavior reflects the time-wasting, random goofiness of people without direction or relief from meaningless routine. “Everyone I know has heard all of my jokes,” complains Colonel James Bowie (Jonas Grey). The only one having fun with his role seems to be Commander William B. Travis (played with absurdist brilliance by Bob Wilson) and mostly because his role on the station seems to have been fabricated out of thin air.

     Kim Boler, Jonas Grey, Charley Jordan, Kaelan Strouse, Bob Wilson, Sarah Grant and Hilary Holbrook - Ephemera Charles Jordan and Kim Boler - Ephemera
Jonas Grey, Kaelan Strouse, Kim Boler, Charles Jordan - Ephemera Kaelan Strouse in 'Ephemera'

Even the comedy’s non-linear story structure, replete with dropped-in asides from the characters, instills repetitive and nonsensical time loops in the action. Wissel’s comedy matches the flukiness of Douglas Adams’ or even Tom Robbins’ novels. At the heart of its highly randomized exposition is a workplace comedy, where work is very definitely not the issue but getting along with the quirks of one’s co-workers is. For the most part, the non-linear storytelling is very successful—only in the second act does it begin to wear itself out as a MacGuffin. However, Sturm’s cast is spot-on in pace, timing and delivery—a factor made all the more exacting by the production’s technical elements. Plus, artist lewis lains’ set design and further art installations create a great space for the cast’s gentle and gracious finale that brings the show home clean, clear and truthful. If a little more editing could be employed, Ephemera just might takes its place in the stars among its illustrious space comedy forebears.

Rating: ★★★

Jonas Gray, Charles Jordan, Kim Bolder

Ephemera continues through May 1st at Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $19, and can be purchased online. More info at

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Review: Redtwist Theatre’s “Waiting for Godot”

The Four Everymen of the Apocalypse

VLADIMIR: We lost our rights?
POZZO: We got rid of them.

l-r: Bob Wilson (Estragon), Noah Simon (Pozzo), Andrew Jessop (Lucky), Mike Nowak (Vladimir)

What can any critic say about a nearly perfect production? It is practically complete; it hardly needs anything from another source. Redtwist Theatre, guest director Jim McDermott, and its cast have achieved a faithful, yet visionary rendering of Samuel Beckett’s modern classic, Waiting for Godot. What flaws exist, are so minor as to be trivial and, indeed, may simply boil down to different interpretations. Far outweighing any trifling objections, this production comes off as such a seamless whole, that one identifies with every character presented, realizing Beckett’s complete commentary on the human condition.

Noah Simon (Pozzo), Bob Wilson (Estragon), Andrew Jessop (Lucky) This Waiting for Godot looks backward as well as forward. Beckett’s greatest play is, without a doubt, informed by his desperate experiences in Europe during World War II. He ran from the Nazis, aided the Resistance, hid underground—enduring starvation, depression, suicidal thoughts, and the endless boredom and anxiety of waiting for salvation, from allies–from anyone. The barren landscape of the play, with its one tree, recalls the War’s environmental devastation. But that landscape also lies somewhere in our future, making Didi and Gogo, Pozzo and Lucky, four Everymen wandering in the desolate wilderness we are engendering right now.

Mike Nowak plays Vladimir with a light, soft touch. He does not go for every laugh possible from his character. Opportunity for clownishness is foregone for a realistic portrayal of a man suffering from all sorts of deprivation, except total loss of memory. This production heightens Didi’s ordeal as a man who remembers in the vacuum of all the other characters around him. Vladimir is the most alone because he has almost no one to witness to his experience. The toll of it4DidiGogoWeb builds unbearably. Neither Novak, nor McDermott’s direction, do anything to relieve the audience of that.

Even with levity provided by Gogo (Bob Wilson), one is impressed by how much Wilson’s gravelly voice and deliberate delivery lend his character gravitas. Estragon comes across more than ever as a Wise Fool. Is it stupidity that accounts for his moment-by-moment involvement in every pain, every bored agony, every miniscule pleasure, or a strange Zen-like acceptance that this moment truly is all there is or all that is left?

Noah Simon’s Pozzo is surprisingly human, for all the awful things he says. His cruelty toward Lucky is appalling; his fatuitous display of culture and learning, hilariously pretentious. His overall self-absorption, whether in his grief over Lucky’s  degradation or his recovery from that grief, is all too recognizable. This makes Pozzo 2TrioWeb less of a monster and more a man who truly knows not what he does. Which is monstrous—and human.

Andrew Jessop’s portrayal of Lucky lacks nothing in technique. What goes missing is simply some depth of experience that will obviously develop in an intensely focused actor very well on his way. Also, a young actor in the role of Lucky suggests the devouring of the young in a way that an older actor in the same role would not. Youth under a shock of white hair also lends his Lucky an otherworldly presence, although it is otherworldliness constrained, oppressed, and capitulating to oppression. This begs the question whether some true genius has been wiped out in its youthful promise. We cannot know what Lucky was or what he has lost. It becomes the question that haunts this performance.

Mike Nowak (Vladimir), Bob Wilson (Estragon) I could throw superlatives at this production all day long. But why bother? Just go see it. Redtwist Theatre has fulfilled its mission to produce great drama in a little black box theater space. For a couple of hours during this play, that little black box contains the whole world.

Rating: ««««


Redtwist Theatre production presents Beckett’s classic play. Featuring Mike Nowak (Vladimir), Bob Wilson (Estragon), Noah Simon (Pozzo), Andrew Jessop (Lucky), Adam Shalzi (Boy). Video includes Jimmy McDermott and Michael Colucci.