Big bangs not necessary

Friends have been chatting online about the latest Hollywood science fiction saga with mammoth explosions. Since I haven't seen it, I can't comment on that. However I can comment on the huge number of fantasy and science fiction sagas on the big and little screen that rely on an "apocalypse" as their major plot point. I never thought Ragnarok would be dull, but I'm beginning to get a little desperate in my quest to find a good fantasy that doesn't suddenly spring "end of the world" on the heroine and expect her to solve that in ten chapters or less.

Luckily, I saw a number of great stage productions over the past year that tackle many of the big themes of fantasy and science fiction, but with very little special effects and nary an apocalypse. As a writer, I enjoy well chosen words, and the ideas behind them, driving the action. With the right words, even designing a garden gazebo can become far more intriguing than a troop of zombies cresting over the hill.

Tim Moore as Captain Brice, Emily Goodwin as Lady Croom, and Mike Dooly as Richard Noakes in
SPT's Arcadia. Photo by Paul Bestock.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard has been making people scratch their heads and ponder the tortoise for more than 20 years. The story nods to the birth of modern mathematics, and the relativity of family relationships, with all the action taking place in one room of a house across 180 years. It's intriguing to read but a true thrill to see performed by a good cast. Last year, Seattle Public Theatre did a terrific production. If you can't get to a theater showing this, track the script down in your local library, if only to ponder how Stoppard manages to weave discussions of entropy into an exploration of the human tendency to fall in love.

A 2012 script that I just discovered was She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen. Besides being a 20-sided funfest, it's a heartfelt examination of the power of storytelling...and how the games we play can be our salvation. This one allows for much more magical settings and costumes than Stoppard's play (which is fairly realistic). In Nguyen's script, the main character ventures into her younger sister's D&D campaign and learns more than how to deal with bugbears. I saw a stellar production in September at Cornish College of the Arts, and digging around, I found out that there's two versions of this script: one for high school productions and one for adult productions (I saw the adult script and would describe it as a PG-13+).  Read the full version and go to see either one if you've ever rolled dice with friends.

A brand-new work about a video game composer and the arctic explorer who appears in her refrigerator debuted in Seattle in 2014. Ernest Shackleton Loves Me by GrooveLily band members Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn and playwright Joe DiPietro is one of those theatrical adventures that looks like a terrible idea on paper but turns out to be mesmerizing on stage. It's a play about dreams, and about hallucinating from exhaustion, and about struggling to do what you want with your life. One of my favorite lyrics notes that both explorers and musicians suffer from the same financial woes because "we live like paupers but dream like kings."

The production was so tied to Vigoda's extraordinary musical skills (she's literally the entire band except for Shackleton's brief and historically accurate banjo playing ) that I don't know how anyone could reproduce it without her.Which is a pity, because I'd like to think audiences outside of Seattle and New York will have a chance to see this one. However, snippets can be found online, like this song:

What made all these shows memorable is that they dealt with shifting timescapes, dragons, and ghosts from the past without once blowing anything up except the audience's preconceived notions about what to expect from a night in the theater.

Even more refreshing, none dealt with the end of the world -- well, Stoppard's play references it but in a way that places far off and not something that we are expected to triumph over. All three were mostly about a heroine making some sense out of the chaos of her life. Fantasy or science fiction doesn't have to be about the next apocalypse. It can be, as these witty plays proved, about achieving your dreams .... or creating new ones.



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