Friday, November 29, 2019

Review of The Passage Theatre's Happy Birthday Mars Rover

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Happy Birthday Mars Rover. It was by Preston Choi and it was directed by Alison Thvedt. It was a compilation of politically-, historically-, and socially-driven scenes and snippets about humanity, exploration, and nature. There are six actors (Sarah Lo, Vic Kuligoski, LaRose Washington, Cory Hardin, Liz Cloud, and Em Haverty) in this show who each play many different roles of different ages, genders, and species in the scenes. There is a full scale of tones, demographics, and messages. It is about the future, love, and extinction. This was an absorbing and enthralling show with really amazing performances and a non-preachy, funny, heartbreaking story of existence.

The vision of the future in this play made me think about how much I value life, and I hope life can be preserved for humans, but ultimately it is okay that humans will eventually go extinct. It is not just human life that is beautiful and important. The play both starts and ends with an absence of humans, and I think that was super effective. There is a really interesting through-line, in many of the later scenes, of people commemorating the dead with pieces of their hair in jars. It is supposed to keep someone alive in your memory to have a piece of them--having something more than a memory. The hair is proof of uniqueness and existence. It is a tradition from the past that is seemingly carried on in the future. It tells us that humans are sentimental and want to be remembered. Humans have an evolution but they stay remarkably the same. There was a scene in the play where it was, as the title suggests, Mars Rover's birthday. The Mars Rover sings happy birthday to itself, but the engineers back on earth have programed it to sing happy birthday to itself. This scene has an evolution in the play, where it is again the Mars Rover's birthday, but this time as it is singing it starts to malfunction and dies. The feeling that I had at this time perfectly exemplified what the play was saying earlier about how the Rover is an object and the engineers should not get emotionally attached or sing happy birthday, but I did care that it was dying. That is the human problem, that they get attached to things but also don't know how to take care of them. It is because humans love things but also destroy them, that the future looks dark for humans.

The play looks at a lot of different types of love, from sexual to parental, crushes to life-long partnership. There is an insanely cringe-y and hilarious sex scene about royalty having bad sex even though one of them is definitely gay and the other is mostly hoping not to be beheaded. It does seem like they love each other, just not the way their parents want them to. They both know they have to make it work even if they don't want to. We also see love between inanimate objects, which is very sweet, between Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. The first scene is just Voyager 1 transmitting its hopeful message until it can't any more and keeps saying "please flip to side B," but there is nobody there. But then another Voyager comes by and flips it to side B, and for one moment it feels like someone else is there. It is sweet to see this symbol of hopelessness (because there is no one there listening) find something to help it. It is like love because it is helping someone when they can't help themselves and letting them know you are there for them. It is hope in the face of hopelessness. The smallest things can have the biggest impact, even if you'll never see that person again. There was this very lovely scene called "Under the Sea" that featured a father trying to record a voiceover for a documentary on jellyfish, but he was interrupted by his daughter who was delivering messages from her mother that were not considerate and criticized his work. But then he learns that his daughter really does love his work and care about what he does. It was very heartwarming to see how much this meant to him. This scene is a good reminder of why people have children, so they have something to look forward to and something they can love unconditionally. In another scene called "Housewives," they make the counterpoint that parenting can be painful because of your undying love for your mortal child.

This play talks a lot about extinction and different attitudes towards it. There is this series of extinction reports done by a cast of middle-school-age characters. One kid did an extinction report on the T-Rex, and he was talking about how he wanted the world to go extinct except for one other girl in his class whom he was in love with. He also seemed very upset about another kid's project, because he saw the kid as an obstacle between him and his one true love. This also exemplifies how humans want to destroy the things between them and love. This entire scene was hilarious because he kept getting distracted by his hatred for his rival and his love for the girl. And he was such a dorky and passionate kid that it was more adorable than terrifying. There was another humorous but dark reality check--I think this play did that sort of thing very well--that was a game show featuring a husband and wife who were having some marital problems but also trying to find places humans could live other than earth. They are facing the harsh realities of their marriage while facing the harsh realities of earth's impending extinction. This is a double whammy that you can't not laugh at because of how dark it is while also being paired with two people trying to make it seem like everything is fine when it is very clearly not. Since these two people have to deal with the fact of extinction every day as well as the impending extinction of their relationship, it is funny to watch in a way that is more of a coping mechanism than flat-out comedy. I feel like this is smart to have this subtext-filled discussion of extinction where it means two things.

People who would like this show are people who like subjecting objects to human emotion, follicles of memory, and love-fueled extinction reports. I think this is a gorgeous show with amazing performers. It made a lot of points that made me think about my own life in ways I hadn't before. It was an absolutely transformative piece of work and I definitely recommend seeing it. I loved it.

Photos: Evelyn Landow

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