Imagine a radio play from the 1930s: cheap sound effects, pulp-adventure plot, overblown dialogue, outrageous accents, perhaps a maddening cliffhanger or three. Now, transplant it to the stage. That’s Jason Neulander's "Intergalactic Nemesis."
The spirit of those shoestring-budget endeavors remains intact in Neulander’s sci-fi-themed play, appearing Saturday night at the Kravis Center. Just three actors will stand behind old-fashioned, golden-age microphones and voice 25 characters (including those with a few death scenes), while one keyboardist/composer handles music and a foley artist will man the production’s sound effects.
"We shake a box of mac 'n' cheese to make the sound of a train racing down the tracks," says Neulander with a laugh. "We have this toy truck that makes the sound of whirring robot servos, and there are these big, corrugated plastic tubes that make musical notes. We use slide whistles to make the sound of jets of hot chloromethane gas coming out of the surface of the planet Zygon. Only one guy is doing it in front of a live audience."
Neulander’s play, which he began staging nationally in 2009, follows an intrepid, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a hypnotist and a librarian in the Carpathian Mountains, tracking down the whereabouts of an invasion of alien sludge monsters called Zygons. The show incorporates another art form that came to prominence in the 1930s – the comic book. An animated whirl of graphic novel pages, 1,200 in all, projected on a screen over the live actors to complement the stage action.
"People don’t really show up expecting this," says Neulander, who conjured the idea from a childhood diet of watching "Star Wars" (his favorite film), Flash Gordon serials and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with his parents, now living in Boynton Beach. "That’s the one part of the show that’s the neatest, the audience laughter. The audience is really cuing the show, and we vary the pace based on the audience tempo. It’s better than a movie, because an audience can laugh right through a movie."
He says "Intergalactic Nemesis" also carries with it a certain nostalgia for the cheaply-produced, Great Depression-era radio programs that families listened for the sake of escapism.
"I think there’s an enormous value in creating something that is pure escapism," he says. "It’s about reconnecting with your own inner 12-year-old. The acting is melodramatic and over-the-top, definitely, but it’s because that’s how someone would act under extreme circumstances. How are you supposed to behave if you’re doing battle against a Zygonian sludge monster?"
"Intergalactic Nemesis" is 7 p.m. May 4 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. $10. 561-832-7469 or Kravis.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times