The new play “Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler” (NR2) at Bay View’s Alchemist Theater1 delivers a fun science fiction romp that outshines many of today’s bigger budget stage, film and TV science fiction offerings.
The play — written by Vince Figueroa and Beth Lewinski — is a sequel to their 2011 collaboration “Natalie Ryan and the Brain Thieves” (NR1). This second Natalie Ryan installment is a well-written adventure with a sharp sense of humor. Time travel stories are often filled with plot holes large enough to fly a DeLorean through and are frequently not well thought out, but Figueroa and Lewinski have crafted a story that is both internally consistent and enjoyable. In addition, the main characters are complex and well written, while the secondary characters have enough quirks and personality to lift them above the all too frequent norm of two-dimensional supporting characters.
So who is Natalie Ryan? If you didn’t see the first play — NR12 — Natalie is a young girl from 1947 who manages to invent one form of time travel at her high school science fair.3 Now Natalie travels time and space righting wrongs and foiling evil alien plots.
One factor behind the strength of NR2 are the strong women characters who drive the play. This time around, freelance time traveler Natalie Ryan is joined by Jamie (Temporal Agent 4218) and the two women work together to solve the play’s central mystery and save the day. Like the most thought-provoking works of science fiction, NR2 explores a number of deeper themes, including the role vengeance plays in shaping an individual’s actions. Is Natalie really just fighting for good, or is she driven by past tragedies she has experienced? And although NR2 doesn’t contain a traditional love story subplot, the audience witnesses two character’s very different emotional struggles following each one’s loss of a true love, and the question for one character of whether it will ever be possible to love again with that same intensity.4
The cast takes those well-written characters and delivers some great performances. Anna Wolfe reprises the role of Natalie Ryan and feels perfect in the role. Director and co-writer Figueroa says in the NR2 program that, “(n)o one else could play Natalie Ryan, and it is my privilege to work with such a gifted young woman.” Grace DeWolff plays Jamie as a no-nonsense agent whose first reaction is usually more confrontational (“Let’s kick some alien butt.”) than Natalie’s. Together, Wolfe and DeWolf have great onstage chemistry and manage to nail the complex and evolving relationship between Natalie and Jamie.
In the tradition of most plays presented at the Alchemist Theater, NR2 employs some very creative staging, effectively setting scenes in a minimalist fashion. For example, the audience knows whether the action is taking place in the Musgeegan5 moon base or a Seattle apartment primarily by the “window” hung on the back curtain. In addition, subtle references and call-outs to other works of science fiction6 reward the diehard scifi fan.
If you enjoy a good science fiction tale, make sure to catch “Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler” before time runs out (groan!).
- “Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler” is being performed at the Alchemist Theater through Sunday August 26, 2012. Tickets can be purchased online ($15) or at the door ($18). [↩]
- I unfortunately didn’t see the first Natalie Ryan play either, and after seeing NR2, I’m very disappointed to have missed the start of the saga. But fortunately, the program for NR2 contains a synopsis of NR1 to bring those attending this second play up to speed. [↩]
- How come the only experiments at my high school science fair involved mundane things like cross-breeding peas or constructing model volcanoes? [↩]
- This play contains one of the most poignant descriptions of a particular fear that someone can experience when fully and unconditionally in love with another. Watch how that fear is described — and the emotional impact that occurs simply from verbalizing that fear — during the first scene following intermission. [↩]
- Is it just my imagination, or is the name of the evil alien race meant to be a light hearted jab at a certain city in Michigan? [↩]
- References to other works include dialogue snippets such as “I’m rerouting the EPS conduits,” musical samples such as the Star Wars cantina music, and prop touches such as Star Trek phasers. [↩]