March 2- 8, 2006
Curio Theatre Company made an auspicious debut, after several touring shows, with last fall's Macbeth. They're fundraising for an ambitious new performance space in Calvary Church's crumbling sanctuary in West Philly, meanwhile performing there in a smaller space and in the Walnut's Studio Five.
Both Macbeth and the upcoming King Stag feature physicality and masks, as did artistic directors Paul Kuhn and Jared Reed's initial Curio collaboration The Iliad, highlighting the incongruity of their puzzling presentation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
One dare not label this a "stage adaptation" of Douglas Adams' work, which began as a BBC radio serial in 1978 and blossomed into novels, a television series and a feature film. Curio calls it "an experiment with radio drama," but even that seems lofty.
We encounter a podium built for three off to the side, and a central projection screen. Three actors in street dress read all the roles in Guide's first four episodes while primitively Photoshopped cartoon stills flash by.
Drew Petersen plays ordinary Brit Arthur Dent, awakened by bulldozers prepared to demolish his house to make way for a bypass. Friend Ford Prefect, read by Jerry Rudasill, pulls Dent into a pub with a bigger revelation: Earth will be destroyed in a few minutes to make way for an intergalactic highway. Ford, an alien, is here researching an updated edition to The Guide, voiced drolly by Susan Jude.
Ford and Arthur hitch a ride on a Vogon destructor and the adventure begins, ending abruptly about 90 minutes later with a promise of more episodes next season.
All three performers leap from one character to another with agility, while the visuals created by Nonthaporn K. Saunders and Ray Saunders do the opposite, plodding from one lifeless cartoon drawing to another with frequent repetition. Curio's Guide lovingly voices all of Adams' quirky witticisms with the glee of fans who've grown up parroting the bitsbut alas, with no hint of creative insight.
Guide aficionados will enjoy revisiting Zaphod Beeblebrox, the pan-galactic gargle blaster, planet-builder Slartibartifast and the dolphins' farewell to humanity, "so long, and thanks for all the fish," while the uninitiated may feel inspired to seek out other versions.
Adams, they say, hatched his idea lying drunk in an Innsbruck field; this not-quite-staged, not-really-animated presentation of his brainchild needed more careful planning.
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY Through March 4, Curio Theatre Company at Calvary Church, 48th St. and Baltimore Ave.; March 9-26 at Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, Ninth and Walnut sts., 215-525-1350, www.curiotheatre.org