Alien notion

The Harmony Codes

Harmonizing from left to right are: Sarah Cohen, Ann Tracy, Art Lai and Terry Chunn.

Harmonizing from left to right are: Sarah Cohen, Ann Tracy, Art Lai and Terry Chunn.

Rated 3.0

The set looks a little like a vocabulary list for a high-IQ spelling test, with several dozen multi-syllable words like “vainglorious,” “obstreperous,” “sanguine,” “dauntless” and “pulchritudinous” (look it up!) painted across the walls and floors.

But the play—The Harmony Codes, presented by Beyond the Proscenium Productions—is more of a lighthearted science-fiction romp, with kooky space aliens bumping up against All-American Midwestern folks, as humans and aliens both go hunting for life’s answers.

If you’re experiencing one of those Twilight Zone moments because this all sounds kind of familiar—you’re right. The similarity presumably isn’t intentional on the part of playwright Michael Grady, but The Harmony Codes bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the Stuart Spencer comedy Resident Alien, produced locally several years ago by the B Street Theatre, and over the summer by the Foothill Theatre Company.

Both plays, after all, have the aliens landing in small Midwestern towns (Indiana and Wisconsin respectively). In both plays, the aliens reveal their presence to an open-minded local, whose spouse (or ex) begins to doubt the sanity of the party who’s seen the alien, with tension accruing in the relationship as a result. Both plays feature good-natured small-town cops who try to help sort things out, with comic results. Both feature a punchy interview scene with a glib, sensation-grabbing talk-show host (inserted in the script right after intermission), designed to get the second act off to a fast start. (Harmony Codes goes Resident Alien one better, mixing in a radio talk-show smoothy, an FBI agent and a few others in the scene as well).

And both plays end up outdoors, under the stars, in a final scene that straightens out some romantic tangles, bids a fond farewell to the aliens, and ties up a few other loose ends. Harmony Codes takes more of a mid-life viewpoint, with wife-and-mom Margaret (played by Ann Tracy) fretting about her teenage daughter’s plans for a “secret” rendezvous with a grungy boyfriend, while hubby Hoyt (Mark Hoffman) does the couch potato thing, sipping beer and watching sports. Actually, this episode of domestic comedy (and a few related incidents that follow) contain some of the play’s funnier scenes.

The aliens (Art Lai and Terry Chunn, both good within the limitations of their parts) arrive soon thereafter, initially posing as milkmen. When Margaret tells them that milkmen disappeared in the 1970s, and delivered milk in the morning in any case, they immediately morph into policemen. They tell Margaret that they’re after the “codes” by which humans live their lives, which sends the housewife on a frantic search as she tries to figure out what might satisfy them.

Director Scott Taylor gets a good, sympathetic portrayal out of Hoffman as the long-suffering husband. Sarah Cohen (a high-school student in real life) also does well as the teenage daughter. Tracy doesn’t get quite all of her punchlines to connect, but embodies a certain charm as a small-town woman caught up in bigger things.

The dialogue features some funny lines, and several scenes get airborne in a comic sense. There are other scenes that just flap their wings and leap—you can see where they’re supposed to be going, though they don’t entirely get there. But this show works well enough, enough of the time, to merit a passing grade, if not a high score.

Lighting, sets and costumes are simple, reflecting the production’s community origins. Scene transitions move more smoothly than in some past productions by this group.