Honor Finnegan Versus the Brain of the Galaxy | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Honor Finnegan Versus the Brain of the Galaxy 

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My favorite time to watch television is late, late at night on Fridays and Saturdays. That's when they put on the old B-movies, the sci-fi, horror flicks that are so bad you gotta love 'em. I put on my pajamas, drag out a blanket, lie down in front of the tube with a bottle of soda, and regress. The only problem is that a little part of my brain keeps insisting that I'm an intelligent adult and I'm not supposed to like that sort of thing. I should be reading a book, or watching 60 Minutes -- or at least Saturday Night Live.

But a play has been written that just may solve the problem for me and millions like myself. Honor Finnegan Versus the Brain of the Galaxy is a tantalizing mixture of sci-fi horror cliches and biting, insightful, and very funny social commentary. Billed as a "sci-fi comedy epic with music," it is a potpourri of popular culture that spares no one. Chain-saw murderer Ed Gein even gets his own song.

The saga of Honor Finnegan Versus the Brain of the Galaxy begins when a strange meteorlike object appears in the Milky Way. This weird hunk of space flotsam soon starts sending signals to earth, but top U.S. scientists can't find the key to the code in which the messages are sent. Luckily for those top scientists, their cleaning woman is actually Honor Finnegan, heroine extraordinaire (the same woman, we are told, who previously handled a Godzilla crisis). With her help, the missive is decoded. It's from the Brain of the Galaxy, who is now hanging out just outside the orbit of Pluto. He is going to destroy the earth unless they can send him a representative (preferably a "spunky little chick -- yum!") who can prove that we are not the scum we appear to be.

Spunky Finnegan is called to the White House, where President Ronnie, though he can never quite remember her name, thanks her for her help with the Godzilla problem, then officially assigns her the task of saving the world from the horror at the edge of the galaxy. And off she goes, amidst a flurry of media harassment and emotional bashing from everyone she knows. But not without first singing a love song to Godzilla.

During her voyage, Honor is shown the true state of humanity, and looks at exactly what it is that she is saving. Though she is forced to admit that we are indeed scum of the universe, Honor decides to save us in spite of ourselves. The story takes a disconcerting twist when we hear the argument Honor gives to the Brain as to why he should spare the earth. The uneasiness continues through to the end of the piece, when we are left wondering just how much good Honor really did, and whether we deserved it after all. And we also wonder what the hell that Godzilla thing was all about.

Godzilla is clearly important here. During the course of the play, we are given a series of minilectures on the political significance of each of the Godzilla movies. We are also told that Honor once had a fling with Godzilla, but she came back and got a nice human boyfriend. But she misses Godzilla and can even sing about it in Japanese. It's cute. It's a pretty song. But what does this mean?

Much of the fun of the piece comes from its roots in improvisation. The actors use improv games and free association to get from scene to scene, and you can almost see the rehearsal process during one scene: Honor has just been through a number of traumas, but one of the actors inexplicably begins to berate her. She is seemingly as confused as the audience, and moans, "Oh, who are you supposed to be now?" "Your boyfriend" he says with a grin, and leads her into the next scene. Personal references abound, and you can sense the fun the group had putting the piece together. This is also reflected in the director's notes, in which he thanks the Reagan administration, the Washington press corps, and NASA, after poking wicked fun at them, "for just being themselves."

Surprisingly, it is not the heroine that makes this play work. The actress, also named Honor Finnegan, is cute and concentrated and has a beautiful voice, but she lacks the humor and charisma that a full-fledged heroine should have. I'm not knocking her. For a nineteen year old, she has a lot of potential.

But it is the all-male ensemble that really pulls the show together. They are an incredible mixture of types and talent, but together they ignite and explode in bizarre, wacky energy. Whether playing serial killers in therapy, blackmailing astronomers, or the slimy, tentacled Brain of the Galaxy, they play off each other with agility, ease, and humor.

An amazing moment in sci-fi theater history is made by these guys when they use flashlights to form a map of the solar system, tracing Honor's course across the sky as she approaches Pluto. It was awe-inspiring. Better than those B-movies, even.


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