“Danger! Danger! Warning! Warning!” - Robot in “Lost in Space”
Lost in space, the Robinson family knew they had landed in a dangerous place. But danger is not found only in outer space: indeed, Earth itself is a dangerous place. The danger is sometimes closer than one thinks, lurking in the shadows, rustling in the closet at night, waiting under the bed, or even in the quarry just beyond the chain-link fence in a small dusty town in the middle of Australia – down under as it were. Ruth (Kiley Lotz) and Violet (Angeliea Stark) two high school students know this only too well as they navigate through the danger inherent in their small-minded town in Alexandra Collier’s “Underland” currently running at 59E59 Theaters.
There are alligators in the quarry – among other dangers – ready to consume humans, spit out their teeth and move on to the next victim. No one knows this better than Mrs. Butterfat who lost the Mister to these creatures years back. All of this is an extended metaphor (perhaps even a mixed metaphor) highlighting the need to find oneself and separate and individuate and become a separate and complete adult human being. It is not a new theme and “Underland” adds nothing new to the discussion. Getting out of a rut from one boring job in Tokyo lands Taka (Daniel K. Isaac) in the same – or perhaps even worse – confinement just beyond the quarry. Violet and Ruth want to escape their bland adolescence and find something new but are aware of the dangers of redemption and release.
The talented ensemble cast struggles to bring some life to Ms. Collier’s text but the attempt just does not result in a satisfying experience for the audience. Annie Golden commands the stage when her Mrs. Butterfat enters but even this brilliant actor cannot save the ship from slowly sinking. Mia Rovegno does her best to stage the piece but again with mixed results. The characters are flat and their conflicts not all that engaging. The plot driven from these conflicts is not focused and even less engaging. The whole one hour forty-five minutes – which seemed interminable – could have been summed up nicely in Ruth’s final conversation to Violet as they decide to escape – fall into a rabbit hole – and disappear in the tunnel:
“We have to. C’mon it’s light down there and far away. There’s no use crying. They’ll all disappear. The whole town’ll disappear. And we’ll be in like bright lights Tokyo. C’mon Vi. There’s bigger fish.”
"Underland" is overwrought, overlong and not worth the effort to get to that kernel of truth. Fables are tough to create and sometimes end up being more pretentious than portentous. Unfortunately, such is the case with “Underland.” Depending on one’s taste (and age), one might be better off with a re-read of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” or “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or “The Catcher in the Rye,” or an episode or two of “Divergent.” It might take a bit longer but the reward will be far greater and far more enduring.
Written by Alexandra Collier and directed by Mia Rovegno. The creative team for “Underland” includes Gabriel Hainer Evansohn (scenic design), Burke Brown (lighting design), Moria Sine Clinton (costume design), Elisheba Ittoop (sound design), Becca Pickett (production stage manager). Production photos by Hunter Canning. Presented by terraNOVA Collective at 59E59 Theaters, 58 East 59th Street in NYC. The performance schedule is Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:15 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 (59E59 Members $17.50) and can be purchased at https://www.ticketcentral.com/ Running time is 105 minutes without and intermission.
WITH: Georgia Cohen, Annie Golden, Daniel K. Isaac, Kiley Lotz, Jens Rasmussen, and Angeliea Stark.