Science fiction has long been the purview of film and, to a lesser extent, television. Live theatrical productions of the genre are few and far between, undoubtedly because of the challenges in staging what we have become accustomed to seeing on screen via the CGI extravaganzas of the past few decades.
Local playwright and former Bohemian contributor David Templeton took on those challenges with his latest play, Galatea, running now through Sept. 19 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Proof of Covid vaccination and masking are required to attend.
Set in the year 2167 on an Earth-orbiting space station, robot specialist Dr. Margaret Mailer (Sindu Singh) is conducting a sort of therapy session with Seventy-One (Abbey Lee), a recently discovered “synthetic” who is the last known survivor of the spaceship Galatea, a craft that mysteriously disappeared over 100 years prior and whose wreckage was discovered decades later.
Seventy-One’s memories of events are spotty at best. Whether those lapses of memory are genuine malfunctions or purposeful deceptions are what Doctors Mailer and Hughes (Chris Schloemp) must determine as they seek to answer the question “What happened to the Galatea?”
Templeton wrote an excellent script which has already been recognized with an honorable mention by the 2020 Theatre Bay Area Will Glickman Award committee. The Award is usually presented to the Bay Area’s best newly produced play but was expanded to productions, including this one, that were suspended due to Covid.
Director Marty Pistone, who counts among his sci-fi credentials an appearance as “Controller #2” in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, has two terrific actors as his leads. Lee, a performer best known for her work in musical comedies, is outstanding in the role of Seventy-One. She takes commonly-accepted robot tropes and brings layers of character to her interpretation. Singh brings warmth, intelligence and a bulldog’s determination to the role of Dr. Mailer. Two hours of talk on a spaceship may seem a bit dry, but the two parrying back and forth nicely deepens the mystery before ultimately resolving it—though some of the comedic bits run long.
The design work of Elizabeth Bazzano, Eddy Hansen and Jessica Johnson combines the familiar with the futuristic and nicely avoids overwhelming the story with gadgetry. The centerpiece is a window on the world of the future, a simple-but-apt metaphor for the play itself.
By the end of the evening, the question “What happened to the Galatea?” is answered (a superfluous epilogue notwithstanding). The question “Will audiences come out for an unknown play?” still hangs heavy in the stratosphere.
‘Galatea’ runs through Sept. 19 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. Tickets $12–$26. 707.588.3400. www.spreckelsonline.com