Chicago Theatre Review
Moon Shot: A Race to Space
Seven actors, a roughly 7×4 platform, a silver curtain, and an eternal fascination. Theater Unspeakable premiers the newest devised stories focusing principally on the Cold War Space Race with humor and a strong flavor of wonder. It is a joy to see whole worlds, leads of time, the forces of physics be conveyed simply by the human voice and body: a pair of fingers run up an actors spine as astrologers scamper up an ancient ziggurat, a pair of hands pull back a pilots face to simulate G-force pressure, a cosmonaut dog barking silently in space.
Its a fun show, and a highly educational one: in addition to following the story of all-American Neil Armstrong (Aaron Rustebakke), his wife Janet (Quenna Lené), and president Kennedy (Vanessa Valliere) we are also treated to soviet side of the story, from chief designer Sergei Korolev (Rejinal Simon), to pilot Yuri Gagarin (David Gordezky) to the first woman in space Valintina Tereshkova (played with toothed ardency by Sarah Liken). Unfortunately, beyond the wonder of conjure show, a lot of the jokes, and the scenes only land if you have a basic grasp of the history, which somewhat sails over the children who attend. A great deal of squirming and shouted questions result, by which point we are already on to the next fractal. There are also some representations of fiery death and some Nazi humor, courtesy of NASA’s kidnapped German engineer Wernher Von Braun (Orion Lay-Sleeper) which are, perhaps, not entirely suitable for the target audience, or at least the more sensitive of them (they were certainly jarring to me.)
The shows greatest flaw is a curious obsession with repetition. What seemed to be shaping up to a triumphant ending becomes merely a rehashing of everything that has come before. Ostensibly as part of a “crowning moment” for Armstrong as he stands in the quiet of the moon, these “small steps” backward come across more as at needle-skip back to earlier in the album. Still they do not disconnect us from the application of a story told in surprising manner, partly tongue’n cheek and partly supremely serious (Valliere’s final Kennedy speech carries an electric current), about a time when people fought to outdo each other by advances and not degradation.
Recommended by Ben Kemper
(Take your kids, but prime them for questions after)
November 5th through 20th 10:00am, 2:30, and 4:30. Check website for specific days.
Running tie: 50 Minutes
Chicago Children’s Theater 1016 N. Dearborn St (not far from the Clark/Devision Redline)
For more information on this or other productions please list theaterinchicago.org