The Cosmonauts Last Message
by Michelle Evans, October 2000
I have rarely seen a production that has the audience as diametrically opposed in their feelings as I have with the recent play “The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union.”
With a title like that, it was difficult to imagine exactly what we were really in for. Several OCSS members went to the La Jolla Playhouse on August 26 to see what this intriguing title might lead to on stage.
The overall theme was simple: a breakdown in communications. We see this for the cosmonauts who have lost radio contact with Earth and have been forgotten by their Soviet leadership; for a couple in Scotland who aren’t quite sure what to do when their television goes on the blink; or a relationship between a man, his lover and her nearly silent girlfriend.
Even those who found the storyline not to their liking admitted that the set was a masterwork. A large metal sphere represented the Soviet Harmony module which endlessly orbits above the other actors and set pieces. Everything is connected to a central axis, with light bulbs hanging throughout the stage as a beautiful 3D starscape. A huge back-drop like the plotting board at Mission Control reminds us where the action is taking place by lighting up city names as we jump around the globe.
The theater warned us before entering that the subject matter and language were meant for mature audiences only. This was certainly no exaggeration, and it served as the crux of many of the negative audience reactions, although this was not always the case.
Mary Hoffmann put it, “I feel that in this day and age, if one is going to write a play about communication, then don’t write a play about communication. This play tried too hard to say what it wanted to. It wasn’t the actors screaming their lines that turned me off – that helped, mind you – it was this theme that we’re all connected, but don’t realize it, that I found to be silly.”
Jeff Howe reacted somewhat differently. “I wish there was a little more substance to the cosmonauts. It seemed as though the play focused more on the lives of those on Earth, and the cosmonauts seemed lost in the storyline. Overall, the play was enjoyable, but not what I was expecting.”
Others felt drawn to the story, such as Cherie Rabideau. “Having been a stroke victim myself, I know how valuable communications can be,” she said after seeing the play. “It may seem obvious, and the play may have hammered the theme home more than some would like, but after my stroke I lost the ability to speak for a period of time and it reminded me not to take contact with each other for granted. Maybe we need something like this play to hit us on the head with the obvious once in a while.”