All Things Entertaining and Cultural
Certain books have their day, and one of them is Douglas Adams’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which expands into a series of six books, the first five written by Adams, and originated as a radio play.
Britain loves its radio plays, which are a staple part of the country’s entertainment.
Adams’s script for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” become a perfect readers’ theater piece as Hedgerow Theatre launches a new series that brings plays to vocal life while illustrating them with story boards projected behind the actors, who emote while reading from scripts resting on music stands.
Long a nerd classic, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide’s” vibrant wit, and intentional silliness, registers in the performances of Mark Swift, Josh Portera, Allison Bloechl, and David Titus, whose wife, Phoebe Titus, provided the graphics.
Swift and Portera and especially good, respectively, at defining Arthur Dent, the homeowner who complains his house is about to be bulldozed, without his consent and no negotiated compensation, to make room for a superhighway, and Ford Prefect, the well-disguised, well-assimilated alien who tells Dent not to fret because the Earth is coming to its end about the same time his house, and Prefect has arrived to grab Dent and keep him from perishing with the other terrestrials that called Earth their home.
Swift is wonderfully comic at playing the stubborn, nonplussed Dent who argues with and momentarily outwits the bovine lug of a municipal foreman assigned to demolish his property, furniture, books, and things apparently included, and an equally recalcitrant and more obtuse Dent who doesn’t quite understand the urgency of all Prefect is telling him as he suggests a drink at a pub while he contemplates the evacuation Prefect assures him will save his life (and make no difference to the home that will vaporize with the Earth anyway).
Adams is clever about poking fun at British foibles, attitudes, and traditions to which Dent seems to be bound. Even on these shores, Dent’s sensitivities and neuroses play humorously, if less recognizably familiar, as they would in England. Swift, with his malleable face, knack for looking bewildered, and ability to show how Dent digs his heels in the ground and has to be persuaded to move, accentuates this comedy.
Portera is just as deft at being amused and bemused as Ford Prefect. Though not English by birth, considering he’s an alien, he is one of the greatest exponents of “stay calm” and “don’t panic” in nerd sci-fi.
Prefect is always in control. He can indulge Dent wanting to have a pint and think things over because he knows exactly how many seconds are left before the Earth evaporates, and he is willing to bide his time humoring his friend until the last moment. Literally, the last moment.
Then, as luck would have it, Dent and Prefect share the same fate as Matt Damon’s Mark Watley in “The Martian” as they time a maneuver that could leave them stranded — and doomed — in outer space for the exact instance a space ship is flying by and can intercept them.
Boarding that space ship is the beginning of a journey through the Milky Way that will prove people on other planets, moons, and stars are just as fussy, irrational, anxious, and idiosyncratic as the British folks Dent left behind. Dent is the one who has a new discovery waiting at every turn. Prefect has toured the Milky Way already. He, it turns out, is a correspondent for a company that prints tour guides to galactic sights, and he has been to many of the wider universe’s metropoli and tourist lures. Prefect was on Earth to write and guide about it, an assignment the Earth’s demise renders unnecessary.
Swift, Portera, Bloechl, and Titus keep their narrations jaunty and comical. Swift is the most creative. He seems to enjoy taking different poses, using different voices, establishing different tones, and taking advantage of the range of expressions he can muster. Portera also seems to having fun, and Bloechl, in a readers’ theater part, has the chance to show more range than she has in multiple parts of the Hedgerow this year.
Jared Reed’s direction keeps all light and sprightly. There are times Dent, Prefect, and others should be afraid or, at least, concerned their calmness and lack of panic may be too breezy to account for the danger they’re in, but Reed lets comedy, Adams’s main stock in trade, even more than imagination, rule the day, so “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” remains a funny, tongue-in-cheek ride for most of its two-act duration.
Swift and Portera get the livelier, more heroic parts, although Swift also scores as Adams’s clinically depressed robot, Marvin.
In addition to Prefect, Portera tends to play the characters who are in command of their situations and whose confidence in themselves, and the universe, allows them to feel aloof and amused, as if they, and only they, are aware of what fools most mortals be, whether they’re from Earth or Betelgeuse.
Bloechl displays a nice coolness as Trillian, another escaped Earth dweller, because she was traveling in space anyway, and a woman Dent once tried to have a relationship with on Earth.
David Titus is given the more intractable, supercilious characters, and he does a decent job with them.
Adams plotted his adventures in the galaxy to parallel the various emotional crises we have on Earth while using his imagination to create other worlds and other codes, especially as defined by the President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Reed and company keep all flowing clearly and entertainingly. This readers’ theater take on “Hitchhiker’s Guide” is meant to be quick and cheery, and Reed makes that happen. Adams does not delve in depth, and Reed gets that most of the author’s jokes revolve around tricks of personality rather than situations or instances of danger, so he lets his production stay fast, and almost sarcastic as Swift and others wink at the human frailties Adams chooses, in his way, to satirize.
Hedgerow’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide” flies by engagingly, always emphasizing the comic and the silly. It doesn’t have the bite or texture of a full production, but it conveys a sure sense of Adams’s story and remains entertaining throughout. The cast has fun, and so does the audience. It’s as if we’re gathered together to have a carefree good time in addition to hearing a story that happens to be a modern pop classic.
Phoebe Titus’s drawings have their own internal wit. They are cartoony and show the lightness and the perspicacity of Adams’s original.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” runs through Sunday, January 17, at the Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, in Rose Valley, Pa. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 and can be obtained by calling 610-565-4211 or by visiting www.hedgerowtheatre.org.