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THEATER REVIEW How to Live on Earth
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-03-15

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Playwright: MJ Kaufman

At: Chimera Ensemble at the Flatiron, 1573 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: ChimeraEnsemble.com; $23. Runs through: March 24

Those travel advertisements asking us "Wouldn't you like to get away from it all?" inform MJ Kaufman's examination of the motives fueling the human propensity for venturing forth into unknown realms. While death still remains the defining "unknown realm" for most mortals, our author proposes an interplanetary fact-finding mission to Mars—a journey over a distance nullifying any prospect of a homecoming—as a literary construct likewise fraught with risk.

What kind of person chooses, literally, to reach for the stars? Answering the call are librarian Eleanor, software engineer Omar, college-dropout Aggie and super-achiever Bill. Some of them are driven to their decision by a sense of duty, some by a desire to prove themselves worthy of attention and others by boredom with terrestrial life. Some actually make the leap to the so-called last frontier, and some stay home to grip the ground.

In addition to the four would-be Rip Van Winkles, we also make the acquaintance of those they are prepared to leave behind. These include spouses and newly-met lovers leery of the "longest long-distance relationship in the history of the world" and mothers struggling with grief for their lost-but-not-dead children, even as their remaining offspring sulk in the shadow of their celebrated siblings. The orphaned voyagers, meanwhile, discover that flight does not guarantee escape. ( Risk is seldom without irony, )

Audiences recalling the recent Redtwist production of Kaufman's Sagittarius Ponderosa will be relieved to find the author employing a less abstract narrative this time, with expressionistic effects limited to a few flourishes of the light board. Gwendolyn Wiegold's direction of the tightly-focused Chimera cast downplays the premise's credibility-straining technological dimensions to highlight the emotional conflicts, making the question most likely to be debated in post-show discussions whether it's better to seek happiness where you already are ( looking to a spontaneous road-trip vacation for satisfaction of wanderlust, for example ) or to abandon everything dear to you in search of a specious utopia.


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