Astounding Science Fiction: A Story of Super-Science | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Astounding Science Fiction: A Story of Super-Science 

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Astounding Science Fiction: A Story of Super-Science, Griffin Theatre Company.

This evening of five stories, adapted for the stage by William Massolia and Michael Petty, opens with 14-year-old James Montgomery Jr. moving his collection of sci-fi magazines into the family bomb shelter, an act that clearly identifies the play's period. In fact the best of the five stories, adapted from the pulp magazines of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s for this Griffin Theatre production, are those that comment on the authors' own times and experiences.

Robert Sheckley's "Something for Nothing" (first published in 1956) can be read as a cautionary tale on credit cards, which Sheckley represented in the story with a cute little R2D2-style robot that grants its owner's every wish. And in Isaac Asimov's 1956 "Playboy and the Slime Gods" a man and woman are kidnapped by aliens (resembling pebbly penguins) interested in terrestrial mating habits, providing the occasion for satirical observations on gender relationships in America. By contrast David Keller's "A 20th Century Homunculus," first published in 1930, is pretty standard mad-scientist stuff, and Robert Block's 1944 "Iron Mask" is an equally generic Indiana Jones prototype (though both stagings are given a campy, humorous edge). Tying the stories' themes together is Asimov's 1941 "Nightfall," with its message of hope for a world facing Armageddon.

Assisted by low-tech but imaginative special effects, the 11 cast members, directed by Richard Barletta and Bill Burnett, play their nearly 50 characters with energy, affection, and a fastidious attention to detail. David Jenkins leads them as the young James, who learns through fantasy to live with reality.

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