Review: 'When Tang Met Laika'
When Tang Met Laika had it's world premiere at the Denver Center on January 28th. Regelio Martinez's play is about an astronaut who falls in love with a female cosmonaut around the time of the 1st shuttle disaster. But that is only part of the play. Intertwined is the relationship between the United States and Russia, a marriage that is, or has been, going bad and ghosts from the past.
Ian Merrill Peakes (Patrick), Jessica Love (Elena) and Megan Byrne (Samatha) lead a very good cast in a show that is more broken into vignettes than one really flowing piece. This tends to slow the piece down a bit but you still find yourself paying full attention to what is going on. Luckily the piece in peppered with comedy, both written and visual. Most of which comes from the excellent Richard Thieriot as the Young Communist (Retired) and M. Scott McLean as the Young Capitalist (Retired). When these two first take the stage, you aren't quite sure what role they have in the play. Act two clears that up if you have not figured it out by the end of Act 1. The love affair between the two space travelers starts in what seems like an instant. It really is not "presented to us" outside of a quick moment in Act 1 where we realize there is an attraction between the two. Later we find that there has been some contact on The Astronaut Patrick's part in the form of letters to Elena, the Cosmonaut. Patrick goes to the space station twice where relations between the United States astronauts and Russian Cosmonauts are a bit tense. But what is Patrick really on the space station for? To explore space, himself or both? And what are the effets of space travel once he returns to earth? Mr. Peaks effectively plays a man who seems to be at once torn but sure of what he wants. At home we find his wife Samantha in somewhat of a frazzled state. Throw in the affair that her husband is having (or wants to have) and you can understand why she begins to unravel a bit. One wants her to just come out and express her feelings and she does. But it seems that it might be a bit too late.
The show is also a bit of a history lesson. If you are not clear or do not remember the Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarian ( Who's ghost is played by R. Ward Duffy) and plays more into the story than you initially think, and the dog Laika (Yes, Laika is the dog who went into space from Russia) no worries, you will be filled in on who they are and how they got into space. And if you are wondering about the "Tang" part of the play's title you would be correct to think it is that powdered orange drink that the astronauts drank in space. Mr. Martinez also uses ghosts to make a comment on the space program itself. Especially with a line spoken near the end of the play that sent a bit of a chill down my spine. It basically says that there will be more ghosts in space.
By the play's end, things are pretty much "tied up". Martinez uses dreams during the play to move things along and also let you know what is going on in the minds of his 3 main characters. The dreams are a bit blurry. They seem to cross between dreams and actual events. During the play, it is mentioned that the astronauts are only allowed to talk to their spouses. For the last dream sequence, it may have been better to have smartly written it as a conversation between Patrick and Samantha. This may have tied up their strings in a more straightforward way. The ending refers back to an earlier scene in the play and to be honest is a bit disappointing and made me feel that I kind of missed something.
The DCTC never seems to disappoint when it comes to sets and lighting. James Kronzer, making his debut at the DCTC, has designed a very functional set complete with two rotating turn tables and a center platform that rises and lowers to become among other things, a table on the space station and a garden. Scenes on earth are cleverly done with set pieces sliding on and off of the stage. Along with Charles R. MacLeod's lighting makes this a wonderful and interesting show to look at. Throw in Jason Ducat's sound design and once again, magic happens in the Space Theater.
All in all "When Tang Met Laika" is an interesting evening at the theatre. It may help you to brush up a bit on the Cold War a bit before you go or you may be confused . I would also suggest you pick up an "Inside Out" study guide at the kiosk in the lobby before the performance. This can be a great educational tool for the show you are about to see. And one last thing...Why does the dog who plays Laika not get credit?! I am assuming that the part will be played by more than one canine?
"When Tang Met Laika" plays at the Stage Theater at the DCTC through February 27, 2010. Cast: Ian Merrill Peakes (Patrick), Jessica Love (Elena) Megan Byrne (Samantha), Randy Moore (Foma and others), Richard Thieriot (Young Communist Retired) M. Scott McLean (Young Capitalist (Retired) and others), R. Ward Duffy (Yuri Gagarin and others)
Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online at www.denvercenter.org. The DCTC also offers special events surrounding their productions that you may want to ask about.
R Ward Duffy with Laika
Ian Merrill Peakes, M. Scott McLean and Randy Moore
Ian Merrill Peakes and Jessica Love