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Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8

The production runs until June 5th

Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8
James Belcher, Nick Farco, and Ric Hodgin in AD Players, APOLLO 8.
Photo by Joey Watkins

As a young boy scout from San Antonio, one of the annual trips I always looked forward to was visiting NASA'S Johnson Space Center. Partially, my move to Space City USA was because of Houston's long history and fascination with outer space. AD Players' production of their world premiere production of Jayme McGhan's APOLLO 8 reignites this childhood passion. This stunningly visual play is a tremendous documentary play on the politics, humanity, and faith of the first space mission that led us eventually to walk on the moon.

Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8
Christy Watkins and Sophie in AD Players, APOLLO 8.
Photo by Joey Watkins

APOLLO 8 has several focuses and deals with several events surrounding the space mission. One storyline revolves around the story of President LBJ (James Belcher) and his secretary, Geraldine Whittington (Ciara Shabree Anderson), and the mounting pressure to beat the Russian communists in reaching the moon. Another involves the Apollo astronauts Bill Anders (Nick Farco), Jim Lovell (Jake Speck), and Frank Borman (Kevin Dean) attempting the first successful mission to break the earth's orbit. Other tales the play touches surround the impact space travel has on the average American, such as Rocket Bailey (Sophie Lowe), who melts the heart of audiences with her knowledge of faith, and engine repair. The play even touches on the Jewish faith as the story of the reunification of father-son, Asa (Ric Hodgin), and Hal Adler (Jake Speck) is brought together because of Hal's fascination with space but also forgiveness and acceptance. There are historical events that this play touches on, such as the death of Martin Luther King Jr. (Philip Kershaw) and the immigration of Afro-Cuban mathematicians Alma Aviles (Ciara Shabree Anderson) and Roberto Aviles (Philip Kershaw).

Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8
Kevin Dean, Jake Speck, and Nick Farco in AD Players, APOLLO 8.
Photo by Joey Watkins

While APOLLO 8 is a documentary piece about the famed space mission, performances by the entire ensemble should be applauded. One can imagine that the quick changes are challenging, and the actors involved should be celebrated. The play is also long, sitting at 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it is almost a marathon feat for its small cast to perform all these roles. The two standout actors in the production are Philip Kershaw and Ciara Shabree Anderson. I found that their characters provide much of the show's emotional heart. When both actors slip out of different characters, it is the most convincing of changes. For example, Ciara Shabree Anderson has minutes to change from LBJ's secretary to the Afro-Cuban mathematician, Alma. Even more fascinating is that you can hardly tell it is the same actor. Anderson is truly a standout and is commendable for breathing life into realistic characters. They are deserving of all the applause for this show.

Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8
Sophie Lowe in AD Players, APOLLO 8.
Photo by Joey Watkins

Anderson's co-star, Philip Kershaw, provides the other extraordinary performance. Playing historical figures, mathematicians, and a husband who uses a wheelchair is no easy feat, and Kershaw makes it look effortless. His physical features and voice change with each role, and sometimes, like Anderson, it isn't easy to assume that it is the same actor. A personal favorite moment is whenever the characters Alma and Roberto Aviles grace the stage. Anderson and Kershaw play these characters with such love and beauty. I would love a whole production based around these characters.

Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8
Christy Watkins and Jake Speck in AD Players, APOLLO 8.
Photo by Joey Watkins

The distinctive design elements of APOLLO 8 can leave a person with their mouths open in shock and awe. Clint Allen's projection design is the star of this production. If a person is interested in seeing top-tier stagecraft, Allen's projections are a must-see. Further praise goes to Paige A. Wilson's costume design. The almost impossible accomplishment of creating a costume design that can inhabit multiple characters is impressive.

Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8
James Belcher in AD Players, APOLLO 8.
Photo by Joey Watkins

Overall, APOLLO 8 is a production that will allow you to explore space and remember that faith is the driving force behind our captivating emotions. While this production reignites the obsession with space I know it will also remind audiences about the power of prayer and spirituality.

Review: AD Players Blends Faith and Space Adventure in APOLLO 8
Philip Kershaw and Ciara Shabree Anderson in AD Players, APOLLO 8.
Photo by Joey Watkins

APOLLO 8 by Jayme McGhan runs at the George Theater currently until Sunday, June 5th. Performances are at 7:30 pm Wednesdays and Thursday, 8:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and matinees at 2:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets can be bought at the George Theater on 5420 Westheimer Road and at https://www.adplayers.org/. Masks are no longer requirement at the theater but they are encouraged.



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