Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear — no, not the Old West but the early 1950s when the science-fiction craze ruled movie houses, producing everything from classics (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”) to clunkers (“Plan 9 From Outer Space”).
Michael Dale Brown, president of the Costa Mesa Playhouse, is a devotee of that period and has written and directed a campy and amusing satire of the genre, “Vampire Queen of Mars,” now on stage at the playhouse as his second such effort, following “Earthlings Beware” a few seasons ago.
The show is a straight-faced send-up of all those outer space exploration flicks with a few exceptions — Mars is habitable, they speak our language, they want to see our world, and they're out for blood.
Brown’s red planet is ruled by Amazonian women who subsist on male blood, and they're running out of it. So when an American space probe touches down there, the fellows are welcomed with open arms — and mouths.
The expedition is led by Jesse Seann Atkinson, a strong actor who plays his role the way Leslie Nielsen did before he found his sense of humor — grim and by the book. His platonic companion on the voyage is snappily interpreted by Ashley Montgomery.
The titular ruler of the roost is regally enacted by Brooke Lewis, who performs convincingly in this most outrageous of assignments. More restrained is Kay Richey, sporting horned headgear as the Martians' aging high priestess.
An intergalactic romance is nicely enacted by young visitor Terrance C. Washington and comely crown princess Emily Hansen. Ron Grigsby has some nice moments — and some goofy ones — as the bookish scientist on the mission.
Wayne Mayberry virtually steals the show as the aptly named Dork, a shriveled Martian captive and the last reservoir of male blood on the planet. Jeff Bickel doubles as the studious narrator and a reptilian creature.
Filling out the cast as warrior women of Mars are Adriana Catanzarite, Claire Marie Sparr and Mary Price Moore, the latter doing double duty as the spirit of Grigsby’s long-departed shrew of a wife.
Brown also functions as one of three set designers, with Ryan and Amanda Linhardt, and their work is exceptional. The fierce shuddering of the actors on takeoffs and landings lends an appreciably cheesy quality.
A high point of the show is Brown’s campy dialogue, which may have more than one interpretation. “Star Wars” fans will recognize one particular line that shows up in each episode — and it has nothing to do with the Force.
Craftily scheduled to play through the Halloween season, “Vampire Queen of Mars” is an unexpected delight, a cleverly satirical homage to the genre that inspired blockbusters like “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” a few decades later, and an enjoyable world premiere at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
Tom Titus reviews local theater.
IF YOU GO
What: “Vampire Queen of Mars”
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 11
Cost: $20 to $22