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Hello, From the Children of Planet Earth

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 7, 2018

Olivia Oguma
Photo by Daniel J. Vasquez Productions

Anyone who spends time contemplating the end of human civilization might take a modicum of comfort in knowing that a record of our existence may very well outlast us somewhere in the vastness of space. That would be a literal record, the so-called "Golden Record" that awaits discovery aboard the ever-patient Voyager I spacecraft, now located some 16 billion miles away in interstellar space. Among the recorded sounds is the voice of the six-year-old son of the late renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, with the message: "Hello, from the children of planet earth." That greeting serves as the title of a new play by Don Nguyen's play, an uneven mix of sit-com humor and a tender-hearted examination of love, friendship, and hope, opening tonight at The Duke on 42nd Street.

Hello, from the Children of Planet Earth, a production of The Playwright's Realm, follows two threads. One of these focuses on the efforts of a lesbian couple, Shoshana (Dana Berger) and Betsy (Kaaron Briscoe), to conceive a child, and Betsy's workaholic aerospace engineer friend William (Jeffrey Omura), whom she asks to be the sperm donor. The second thread is a more philosophical one, featuring the personification of Voyager I itself (embodied by Olivia Oguma) as it continues its extended mission to the furthest reaches of the universe.

Mr. Nguyen shows some real strengths as a writer whenever he touches on the emotional elements of the story: the impact on the women who want a child and on William, who is wrestling with his potential role. But none of this is explored adequately, and the playwright only scratches the surface with respect to Shoshana and Betsy's relationship, how Betsy has had to cope with previous miscarriages, and the demons that are gnawing at William as he contemplates a future as a father, regardless of the extent to which he would be involved beyond his initial biological contribution.

Instead, we spend far too much play's 90-minute run time with William and his buddy Freddy (Jon Hoche) at their workplace, where they ostensibly are focused on programming tracking software used for staying in contact with Voyager. In these scenes, the playwright falls down the rabbit hole into the world of television comedy and bromance movies. Despite Mr. Hoche's willingness to throw himself completely into his sidekick role, Freddy essentially exists to churn out silly adolescent jokes about masturbation, poop, and his obsession with piggyback rides.

As things stand, the most interesting and original aspect of the play stems from humanizing Voyager. (This is not the first time Voyager has made an appearance in popular culture, by the way; she was an important "character" in the original Star Trek feature film). It might seem silly to do so, but as Olivia Oguma presents Voyager in short speeches she makes from a walkway located high above the earthbound characters on stage, she embodies the fears, ambitions, sense of wonder, and hopes for all of humanity. Indeed, the most emotionally honest moment in the play comes when Voyager falls into radio silence and William despairs she may be lost forever.

The actors and director Jade King-Carroll do their best with the underwritten roles, but the play would be far better served if the playwright had "listened" to his characters more. It is not the one-liners, but the awesome juxtaposition of a baby's heartbeat and the "heartbeat" of the distant spacecraft we should leave the theater thinking about.

Hello, From the Children of Planet Earth
Through March 24
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: