Space madness descends in X | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Space madness descends in X 

A group of stranded space explorers confront their mortality and humanity in Sideshow's U.S. premiere.

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Jonathan L. Green

Space. The final frontier. X, a Sideshow Theatre production by Alistair McDowall (directed in its U.S. premiere by Jonathan L. Green), follows the misadventures of a group of British astronauts on Pluto. All life on earth, with the exception of humans, has died out (yet they can still mount major space missions). But bummer, communications from earth have ceased and no one can pick them up. Dysfunction reigns. Space madness sets in. Is there something outside the window? A mystery-horror-thriller, X's influences include 2001, Aliens, even Waiting for Godot with computer glitches, intruders, and an expected guest who never arrives (or do they?).

H.B. Ward plays Ray, the captain, who keeps the past alive by practicing bird whistles. Sarah Price is Gilda, an uptight scientist, largely unlikable and standoffish until the end, when her humanity ekes through. Gage Wallace shines as the spirited Clark, who lives exclusively in the present, a delight every time he is onstage. As they lose connection to the past, their present dissolves.

Yu Shibagaki's scenic design captures the beautiful sterility of a space base, complemented by Jordan Kardasz's excellent lighting and Paul Deziel's wonderful projections. Be warned, however, that at one point, the lights pulse in a hypnotic way, alternating brightness levels and creating, in conjunction with a repetitive verbal pattern, a very trippy experience. But like a trip, some may find it fun and others freak out. My companion found it overwhelming and left during that sequence. The cast do their best to maintain British accents, which often drift into Aussie or midwestern. X ends with an unaffecting, ambiguous scene, but overall provides an engaging, if dire, depiction of humanity in extremis. Editor's Note: An earlier version of this review referred to a lighting effect as "stroboscopic." Sideshow Theatre Company has informed us that no strobe effects are used in the production. We regret the error.  v

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