A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

It’s unusual to find stagings of science fiction or fantasy plays, so it is encouraging to know that some folks are remedying that for Los Angeles audiences. Co-founded by veteran theater producers Michael Blaha and Lee Costello and actor David Dean Bottrell (Boston Legal), SCI-FEST L.A.: The Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival debuted in May of 2014 to sold-out houses. In this, its second year, Sci-Fest offers two rotating shows of several one-act theater pieces at Hollywood’s Acme Theatre through May 31.

The show I saw was “Program A,” consisting of five works of varying length. First up was Turnover by Chris Graybill (directed by Jeffery Marcus). In a futuristic setting, there is a “job interview” taking place in an intergalactic penal colony between an inmate and her interrogator. With its unearthly setting and surprise twist at the end, this felt most like a mini Twilight Zone, although the cerebral cat and mouse game left me feeling somewhat uninvolved.

More successful was Human History by Joel Silberman (directed by Malcolm Barrett and Matthew Leavitt). This is essentially a parable about racism, or in this case, spacism, as the setting is a classroom far in the future on a distant planet. Alien-looking students debate history as well as the realities of species differences as experienced by the one “pure” remnant of humanity as well as the “mixed” students who fall in appearance somewhere in between and identify with both factions. Overall, this is a fun and useful take on today’s race relations.

The Lunchtime Show by G. Clarence Davidson (directed by Drew Barr), while predictable, may be the most fun of the lot. Visitors have come to a ramshackle roadside attraction in a deserted desert town to see a mutant “baby.” On the tour, their money is collected as the twang-talking hostess teases them with brief glimpses of something horrific looking. Only after they all pony up more money do they get the full show, when “baby” emerges and gives them all more than they bargained for.

Clive Barker, the influential fantasy and horror writer, wrote The Departed as a short story. Adapted by Christian Francis and directed by Ben Rock, this is a quite brief story about the spirit of a mother who is obsessed with connecting with her beloved young son one more time. She is joined by a kindred spirit on Halloween when they can don costumes and blend in with other revelers. This may have a famous name attached to it, but it amounted to little more than a brief dash of a paintbrush on canvas, really too little to leave more than a passing impression.

By far, the best of the show was saved for last. The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds is by Neil Gaiman, a well-known sci-fi writer whose work flows across genres including novels, short stories, graphic novels and comics. Adapted by Michael Bernard and directed by Annie McVey, Blackbirds is a delightfully zany mashup of fairytales with the 1930s noir sensibility of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  L. Jack Horner (played with great aplomb by Mark Povinelli, a dwarf) is a hardboiled private dick hired to investigate the suspicious death of one H. Dumpty. His investigation puts him in contact with numerous fairytale characters, any one of whom could have done it. Along the way, we meet Bo Peep, the Red Queen, Simple Simon, Mother Hubbard, Georgie Porgie and the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe. There are also the requisite bombshell blonde, shady stoolies and the recalcitrant copper. It’s the longest piece of the show, and the least “sci-fi,” but this is the one worth waiting for and there’s not a moment of lag, so be sure and stay for the end.

—David Maurer, Culture Spot LA

SCI-FEST L.A., the Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival continues at Hollywood’s Acme Theatre (135 N. LaBrea Ave.) through May 31. For festival information, please visit: http://www.sci-fest.com.