It Comes from Beyond
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
December 7, 2012
Horse Trade presents a new play by Michael R. McGuire, developed in the Drafts monthly reading series, and directed by Heidi Grumelot. It is indeed a well-developed play about hokey 1950s sci-fi films and what they tell us about the national psyche (neurosis, more like it). Flipping back and forth between the 1950s and the present, the story briefly holds out the hope that our society has matured, then makes a decent case to the contrary. Is there a monster attacking us from somewhere beyond, or is the problem within?
The action starts with the sexy "Bombshell" (JB Roté ) eating an ice cream cone with the distracted "Square" (Justin Tatum). They barely know each other, and the more she tries to charm him, the more he keeps looking into the sky for the alien infiltration he has predicted. They are about to go to a picture show where "It Comes From Beyond!" is playing, but they are interrupted by Bombshell's degenerate sort-of ex-boyfriend Hot Shot (Brett J. Diggs), who, after scaring them away, witnesses something extra-terrestrial.
Switch to the present day minus a few years. Edward (Justin Tatum) has written an homage to sci-fi films and literature titled "It Comes From Beyond!" which he is discussing with a prospective actress, the alluring Stephanie (Amanda Van Nostrand). Stephanie may act like an airhead in her film work, but her concerns about the script are not unreasonable: why is her character chased out of the bathtub and then through the snow for 20 nude pages? What's with the stereotyping of women? An overly cool Waiter who's an aspiring actor (Brett J. Diggs) talks all sorts of trash about Stephanie, who declines the film project to prostitute herself to a Hollywood sitcom producer.
Back in the 1950s realm, Hot Shot has found his way to Square's apartment, where he continues to resist Bombshell's advances and make calculations about the end of the world. Of course, Hot Shot didn't know where to go and only got there due to possession by an alien intelligence. The noise of his arrival provokes law-abiding neighbor Sadsack (Ben Kaufman) to attack the bunch with his katana and seize some of Square's immoral, Communist-looking manuscripts. Eventually, the unearthly oracular pronouncements stop coming out of Hot Shot's mouth, and he and Sadsack bond over a bottle of Scotch. But Square believes the end of the world is coming that night, and this leads to his proposing to Bombshell and planning to love her forever (since it's not that long). She believes it is his monstrous lovemaking talents that have kept him apart from so much of the fun to be had in that time. Is Sadsack (who plays a monster in the movies) really a monster, or is every blindly obedient, red-blooded American a monster? Commotion ensues, riffing on the many paranoias of that era.
Back in the present, Edward encounters Stephanie again. His film project fell through, and her Hollywood work just led to her being marginalized and sexually exploited. Stephanie's fiancé Paul (Ben Kaufman) is a simple-minded Capitalist who is poised to make her life much worse, and whom Edward describes as a monster.
Kudos to everyone involved in this production for putting so many layers of enjoyment into a scary reality. The multiple roles for the actors across different eras definitely showcase their talent. Norihito Moriya's set--a bedroom where everything from the floors to the walls to each book on the shelf and table is pure white--is brilliantly sci-fi and open to many interpretations. Jessica DiBattista's costumes evoke some of the most charming parts of the 50s. Rico Rosetti's lighting really turns a sunny day into a spooky story.