Last year, I gushed over the first-ever Sci-Fest LA, calling it “poignant,” “visceral,” and “ . . . the kind of theater that is easily accessible and could lead the way to revitalize the stage for general audiences.” Not only do all of these statements unquestionable apply to this year’s show, but the bar has definitely been raised with a collection of stories and performances that entertain beyond belief, push the envelope of what audiences expect from the theatre and stage productions, and present challenging themes and discussions in a digestible format. This last element has long been one of the most important gifts that the science fiction genre (and the creators behind it) have given the world: the ability to civilly (and, hopefully, objectively) examine and discuss social and political issues in a public forum. Make no mistake, Sci-Fest LA is not a show with a specific political agenda or a desire to preach to its audience, but the powerful concepts explored during the performances will surely stay with attendees long after the show and will inspire many deep and thoughtful discussions over a warm cup of joe, a cold beer, or whatever happens to be the preferred beverage in your quadrant of the galaxy.
I had the pleasure of attending "Program A" for this year and was once again blown away by the selection of one-acts provided. The night starts off strong with "Turnover," a chilling depiction of a future dominated by a labyrinthine incarceration system, featuring absolutely captivating performances from actors David Dean Bottrell and Keisha Thompson. "Turnover" is followed by the equally powerful, but utterly different, "Human History" which examines the species relations and social issues betweens human beings and a conquering alien race. Now, over a hundred years later, the two species co-exist in a unified society, but the wounds from a history of humanity’s eradication, enslavement, and prejudices surrounding them still remain extremely painful. The entire cast of "Human History" excels with their layered performances in what was the stand-out piece of the evening for me.
The rest of the evening is just as exciting and spell binding as the first two acts. "The Lunchtime Show" is like an extremely creepy episode of The Twilight Zone that pushes the boundaries of stage effects and costuming. "The Departed" (based on a work by horror legend Clive Barker) is haunting in its depiction of the spirit world and features standout performances by actors Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal (who readers may know from their dazzling resume of voice-over work). And, "The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds" is a hilarious, noirish romp through the land of nursery rhymes and is based on a work of Neil Gaiman. It also features the most charismatic performance of the night by Mark Povinelli as Private Dick Jack Horner.
FINAL VERDICT: I unabashedly urge you to purchase your tickets immediately for Sci-Fest LA 2015. In its second year, this sci-fi-focused show continues to excel and impress when it comes to original and meaningful storytelling, talented performances, and redefining audiences’ conceptions of what a stage production can be. Sci-Fest LA continues to be an out-of-this-world experience and another step in science fiction's acceptance by mainstream audiences and popular culture.
Performances continue through May 31st, 2015, so purchase tickets while you can. For a full list of the festival's schedule and performance listing, please visit the official website at www.sci-fest.com.