Seeing the Other Side of the Moon
by Michelle Evans, December 2000
Imagine being in a laundromat. It’s time to open the massive circular door of a public washing machine. You throw in your clothes with the soap, close the door and watch the cleaning cycle start. The suds eventually dissipate and you open the door again. The washer is empty and clean; just a metallic shell. Deciding to take a leap, you slowly crawl inside the giant drum of the machine, close the hatch behind you, and you are now inside a space capsule floating free through the cosmos!
So begins the journey presented in the recent play, “Far Side of the Moon,” at Irvine’s Barclay Theater. This one- man play by Robert Lepage was seen only one time previous to this, in New York City. Audience reaction has been very enthusiastic. To add an extra dimension to the play at its West Coast premiere, OCSS was contacted by Karen Drew of the Barclay to bring in our expertise with space exhibits and for creating enthusiasm with the public.
OCSS members were part of the lucky audience that did get to see this play while it was here. In exchange for tickets, representatives from OCSS placed a display in the theater lobby for the two-night run, October 27 and 28.
Prior to the play, a massive revamping of our materials was undertaken to present the best display we have ever accomplished. This event featured the first use of our new model of the International Space Station, along with a large mounted poster showing the construction phases of our outpost in space. In addition, the smaller of our two new display walls that Jeff Howe recently acquired for us were put to use with great new visuals.
Our most intriguing new element to be put before the public was a black and orange Furby toy. Of what possible connection is a talking and dancing Furby to space? Great question, with a very interesting answer. It so happens that a small Furby toy, that retails for about $20, happens to have more built-in computing power than the Lunar Module that landed us on the Moon over 30 years ago! So now, our official OCSS Furby stands proudly next to our Lunar Module in this and future displays.
The play attracted approximately 800 people over the two performances. Our exhibit was set up in the lobby of the theater where patrons could view it both before and after the performance (there was no intermission). We were often crowded with people asking questions and looking over our materials. Many teachers were present and asked how we might be able to benefit their schools with future programs. Whenever possible, OCSS will be there to help out.
The “Far Side of the Moon” proved to be a bizarre, yet fascinating play for those who saw it. The story revolved around two brothers, one very successful in business and the other still struggling to earn his doctorate (with his dissertation being about the original space pioneer, Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky).
Besides coming to terms with each other and the recent death of their mother, the one brother with his eyes on the stars also decides to enter a contest to create a video tape about his life that, if he wins, will be broadcast to the stars by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program.
The high points of his life are juxtaposed with that of the space program. Throughout the play we see newsreel footage of Sputnik, Gagarin, and other reaches for orbit. When Man lands on the Moon, it is reproduced with two small puppets emerging on a blacked-out stage, raising an American flag in the void.
Although somewhat disappointed by the amount of actual space material presented, Jeff Howe said that, “what was done clearly showed that Lepage did his homework, and that I enjoyed immensely. Overall, it was an enjoyable play, though strange at times.” He went on to say, “ I was very impressed with the set — especially when Lepage ‘floated’ through his washing machine.”
Mary Bisbing said how, “it was very innovative using illusions, mirrors, lights, and shadows. It had the familiar with the fantastic; entertaining, thought provoking, and confusing, all at the same time.”
Mary Hoffmann told O.C.SPACE how “I’m not usually into one man shows, but Robert LePage was fascinating, if just a bit off the wall. He could play two completely different characters without missing a beat. The content I’m still a little fuzzy about, but I had the feeling if I tried to analyze it, I would miss the point. Every time the shy brother had a fantasy, I was completely drawn into it. It's too bad it was only for two nights — I’d like to go back and see it again!”
Ivor Dawson was very enthusiastic in his praise of the work: “The play was dyn-o-mite! The most imaginative use of lighting, video, mirrors, and puppets I’ve ever seen! The ‘bike ride’ across the ‘Plains of Abraham’ was most enjoyable for me.” Ivor summed up with the thought that “good theater, good music, good movies, and space — it's all connected.”
Near the end of the play, the brother’s video has been accepted by SETI and his life will be transmitted to the stars. Forgetting the time change (possibly on purpose) he is late to make his speech before the committee that has chosen his work. On the way home, the airport lounge is turned on its side, mirrors angle in such a way that it appears he is now floating in space; a haunting final image in an exhilarating play.