by Alex Robinson
Given all the media in which to tackle science fiction, a stage production is surely the most challenging. Unlike a novel, which is limited only by the author (and reader’s) imagination, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster crammed full of CGI wizardry, theater demands that any special effects be practical (reproducible night after night) and also stand up to close scrutiny. How do you present an epic science fiction trilogy in the intimate setting of a small theatre? Gideon Productions’ staging of The Honeycomb Trilogy by Mac Rogers and playing in repertory at The Gym at Judson, sets out to do exactly that. The result is a both epic and personal.
The Honeycomb Trilogy consists of three plays, each running about two hours. The first, Advance Man, takes place two years after the first manned mission to Mars and, in an unexpected twist for a science fiction trilogy, takes place entirely in the living room of a suburban home in Coral Gables, Florida. At its onset, the play feels more domestic drama than sci-fi: Housewife Amelia (Kristen Vaughn) suspects her husband Bill is having an affair and hires a private eye (Ana Maria Jomocla) to get to the bottom of things. Only the presence of mentally challenged former-astronaut Conor (stand out Jason Howard) hints at the ominous things to come.
It turns out Bill does have a secret but it has less to do with another woman and more about another race—the aliens he and his fellow astronauts encountered on their last trip to space.
Writing (and performing) science fiction dialogue is tricky since it usually involves having to include exposition that, in the wrong hands, can come across as silly or technobabble. Playwright Rogers, however, does a good job balancing on the tightrope and cannily doles out just enough information to keep you intrigued and guessing until the pieces come together. By then you’re fully invested in the world he’s created.
The actors treat the material with gravitas. Sean Williams is coldly confident as plotting husband Bill and Becky Byers does an excellent job as his daughter Ronnie—particularly in the second play, Blast Radius, (which takes place 12 years after Advance Man) where we see her changed from a cynical, funny teenager to a jaded young adult. Ronnie’s transformation continues into Sovereign, where she’s played by Hanna Cheek.
With each play we see the living room set (designed by Sandy Yaklin) transformed to reflect the drama going on around it—the cozy, familiar setting becomes a ramshackle refuge in Blast Radius and a post-apocalyptic kangaroo court in Sovereign. It’s an appropriate setting since at its core, like another science fiction trilogy making the news, The Honeycomb Trilogy is about family. Earthy Ronnie and her more idealistic brother (played by David Rosenblatt in the first play and Stephen Heskett in Sovereign) are the centerpieces of a story about humanity’s future.
Interested parties can see The Honeycomb Trilogy in two ways: catch performances of the individual plays on weekday evenings, but if you have the time—and stamina—I encourage seeing their weekend “binge watch” productions in which all three are staged back to back. Sharing the experience with the actors and watching their characters evolve, grow and in some cases die as the world around them is turned upside down makes for an immensely satisfying day (and night) of theater.
The Honeycomb Trilogy
The Gym at Judson
55 Washington Square South
Through November 14
Alex Robinson’s books include Box Office Poison, Tricked, Too Cool to Be Forgotten, and the forthcoming Our Expanding Universe, all of which are available from Top Shelf Productions. He is also co-host of the podcast Star Wars Minute.