‘Galatea’ – A sci-fi drama worth waiting for
You don’t need to be a sci-fi enthusiast to be enthusiastic about David Templeton’s new play, ‘Galatea,’ now being performed by Spreckels Theatre Company, 18 months after its originally scheduled opening. This absorbing production will get you asking questions about what it means to be human even as you are trying to figure out just how human the characters on stage really are.
Set on a space station in the year 2167, the play opens with therapist Dr Margaret Mailer (Sindu Singh) interviewing 71 (Abby Lee), a recently rescued crew member of the long-ago missing spacecraft Galatea. We learn that there are now two types of human: organic and synthetic. 71 has been found after several decades of cryogenic sleep and Dr Mailer is tasked with helping her adjust and adapt to her new environment. Synthetic humans have evolved in the decades since the Galatea disappeared, so this includes teaching 71 more human traits, such as shaking hands and laughing. However, it soon becomes apparent that the situation is a good deal more complicated than first appears, and the question of what really happened to the Galatea is on everyone’s mind, including 71’s.
Templeton’s clever and agile script, which recently received an honorable mention in the prestigious Will Glickman new play awards, is able to quickly fill the audience in on the basic premise of Galatea’s world, without being weighed down by too much exposition. What seem initially like irritating traits or ticks by certain characters are never extraneous; every quirk or inconsistency turns out to have a reason as the plot twists and turns in ways that are genuinely surprising.
It’s brought to life by an excellent cast. Abby Lee is exceptional as 71, able to keep her body perfectly still between movements and nailing the cadence of her robotic speech patterns. Her sometimes acutely painful attempts to become more human also bring out the comic elements of the script, even as she reasonably questions the value of a synthetic human learning to imitate laughter. As an actor, Sindu Singh skillfully navigates a balancing act for her character that only becomes clear later on, while Chris Shloemp, who plays her colleague Dr Hughes, brings some nice comic timing and much-needed warmth – you might even call it humanity. David L. Yen, who makes an appearance in the second half, is convincing as an old-school synthetic who nevertheless is responsible for perhaps the most moving, genuinely human moment of the show.
The cluttered set, which at the top of the show had one audience member behind me commenting ruefully, “so Buddha is still around in 2167, then” makes good sense once you learn more about Dr Mailer. And I appreciated the relatively low-key sound and lighting designs and costume choices that effectively advanced the story, but didn’t distract from it by being too obviously ‘futuristic.’ The projections on the two screens were also well done. Kudos to director Marty Pistone for making smart choices all round, and for sticking with the project to see it through. It was worth the wait.
The play leaves you with many ethical questions to ponder, but as I exited the theater, I heard one audience member say to her companion ‘Funny and heartbreaking – I loved it!’ Honestly, that seemed a very fair summing-up. Neither adjective comes to mind when I think of science fiction – but perhaps that’s why I liked it so much.
‘Galatea,’ a science-fiction mystery-drama by David Templeton, runs from September 3-19 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Run time is 2 hours + 15 minutes intermission. Tickets at: www.spreckelsonline.com.