Calling all saucers
Oroville’s Birdcage Theatre produces fun version of Vidal’s Small Planet
Birdcage Theatre over in Oroville has managed a nice little production of Gore Vidal’s classic comedy Visit to a Small Planet. Some out there might remember the rather over-the-top, retooled-for-Jerry Lewis version cranked out by Hollywood a few decades ago. The film, of course, doesn’t quite hold a penlight to the original stage comedy.
Fortunately for local theatergoers, Birdcage’s production takes things back to the basics.
The time is 1958, the setting just outside of Manassas, Va. There’s been a crazy UFO barnstorming the area for days, prompting doubting television host Roger Spelding to declare the phenomenon “a whole lot of nothing.” The curtains part on the front room of the Speldings’ home. Host Spelding is being assured by Gen. Tom Powers that, should there prove to be anything to this UFO flap, Spelding can rest easy knowing that the U.S. Army is on top of things. Enter Spelding’s wife Reba with a basket full of macramé. UFOs don’t seem so threatening to her; she’s more concerned about the couple’s teenaged daughter. Of course, this leads to a gimme-grabbee scene between daughter Ellen and her somewhat provincial beau Conrad Mayberry.
Suddenly, a UFO appears and lands in the Speldings’ backyard, “Right on my roses,” as Mrs. Spelding ruefully notes.
Kreton’s an alien from another dimension who hit a backwash in the space-time continuum, missing his intended target of the American Civil War and touching down instead in ‘50s Virginia. And it is Kreton’s observations on humanity’s inconsistencies and contradictions that make for much of the comedy in this play.
Actor Joey Bartlett does well as Kreton. His English accent is tolerable and sort of suits the character’s benevolent aloofness. Bartlett’s delivery is good, as well. If there is any complaint it is that the actor’s voice sometimes lacked sufficient projection; he got a bit too quiet at times. His use of props, particularly “Rosemary,” was very funny indeed.
Equally notable was Megan Murphy as somewhat sex-crazed teenager Ellen Spelding. Her boyfriend Mayberry (Timm Dunn) often speaks of marriage, yet Spelding is interested only in the “honeymoon,” really. Nice role-reversal providing good laughs here. Murphy is up to the delivery, too; her voice is clear, her inflection good.
As Gen. Powers, Frank Castello is comically functional as the uptight, former laundry officer who sees his assignment to the “special investigations” unit as his big break. Castello does well with the role. Also, David Williams as the General’s “Aide” gets a few comic moments, too.
As television personality and paterfamilias Roger Spelding, Don Green is OK. He seemed a little unsure of his footing line-wise at times last Saturday night. But he got the job done. Diane McCracken as Mrs. Spelding was fine, as was David Holt as Delton 4—who serves as a kind of deus ex machina near the play’s conclusion.
Above all, however, towers the script. And apart from a few scientific inaccuracies commonly held by scientists back when it was written, this is still a pretty darned funny play. Gore Vidal’s pointed wit shines through at nearly every exchange. It’s really surprising that more local companies haven’t produced this work.
Overall, Birdcage’s production succeeds, and the show makes for a humorous night out. Director Shirley Bugado, her cast and crew have all done well. Check out the show the next time your saucer’s in the neighborhood.