Directed by Emelia Zuckerman
Produced by Forget Me Not Theatre Company, Chicago
A Crisis of Trauma and Depression…In Space!
The most heartening sign of vibrancy in Chicago’s theatre scene is the number of young artists honing their skills, and using the stage as a form of expression and exploration. Forget Me Not Theatre Company, founded in 2012, is one example of a group founded by early career artists to facilitate new work, and they’ve dedicated themselves to mounting a Chicago premiere and a world premiere each season. This year’s world premiere is The Impossible Adventures of Supernova Jones, the first full-length play by Aaron Senser. An innovative combination of live-action and video, this play vindicates Forget Me Not’s development process, and supplies material for fine performances.
Supernova Jones (Brendan Mulhern) is a space explorer on a secret mission to find the true center of the universe, following the destruction of the Earth in a nuclear war. Accompanying him is his faithful robot servant, S.A.M (Tom Murphy), as he does battle with the villainous Sons of Cain (all of whom are played by Justin Martin Fill). Supernova’s adventures are introduced through grey-scale footage in the style of campy old-fashioned science-fiction TV shows, and we first see him shoving one Son of Cain out an airlock to protect the exact details of his mission. But although Supernova possesses heroic strength and intellect, he is troubled by his cooling relationship with his wife, Evelyn (Jill Martel), who wishes he wasn’t too caught up in his mission to spend time with her. One day, after mistakenly thinking it was Supernova’s birthday, S.A.M. is alarmed to discover him unresponsive.
The reality is the Supernova, whose real name is Adam, has retreated into a fantasy land following a traumatic fire. It is now the first anniversary, and he is catatonic. His doctor (Gary Smiley) encourages his wife to remain with him, though even when he wakes up, there is no particular plan to cure his delusions. The play slowly reveals bit-by-bit what caused Adam’s mind to snap, but first, other characters generated by the fantasy world he has created struggle to trap him or wake him up. The most mysterious of these is the space cowboy Hash (Evan Henderson), whom S.A.M. instinctively distrusts. Hash admits to Supernova that he has a choice of which world to live in, but encourages him to remain in the world of fantasy. He displaces S.A.M., and soon the sci-fi world is falling apart, too, as Adam’s real life wife despairs, and at some level, he is aware of being completely alone and insane.
Deep-voiced Brendan Mulhern embodies the perfect action hero, and his gravitas carries the darker and more emotional moments of the show. In the brief glimpses we get of Adam in the video from before the fire, Mulhern showed him to have formally been a fun-loving, dedicated father. As S.A.M., the diminutive Tom Murphy is a most lovable robot, gentle and chipper, but with a hint of impatience beneath. Costume designer Delena Bradley clad him with shiny metallic overalls and a bowtie, to delightful comic effect. Evan Henderson is an imposing, yet charming tempter, and as the lead Son of Cain Enoch, Fill has confrontation with Mulhern which transcends the sci-fi cheesiness to become a true clash of wills, with the aid of Ryan Crowther’s film-like sound design.
Dan Haberkorn has also designed several videos which are used throughout the play, both as part of the Supernova fantasy and an artifact of Adam’s real life. My only complaint in this regard is that Mulhern and Henderson are both very tall, and the screen is on the back wall, so a seat higher in the audience is desirable. As you can tell by the names, Adam has a preoccupation with the Bible that is related to his grief and mission to “the true center of the universe,” and I wish that had been established as a stronger part of his waking life, because neither of his alter egos is outwardly religious, and I’m not sure how it fits with the Supernova universe. But that’s not something that poses a problem during the show, which director Emelia Zuckerman guides along smoothly. For people interested in supporting new work by young artists, The Impossible Adventures of Supernova Jones is a rewarding and inspiring experience, as well as a fine story in its own right.
Reviewed April 25, 2015
For more information, see The Impossible Adventures of Supernova Jones’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at The Den Theatre, 1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. Tickets are $20; to order, visit forgetmenottheatreco.com. Playing Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm through May 10. Running time is ninety minutes with no intermission.