Sci-Fest, the Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival is a ballroom where live theatre and science fiction partner up to flirt and tease each other with a myriad of results. Each performance portrays a different perspective of the genre and how it can be received in an intimate theater setting. At the ACME theater in West Hollywood, fans and skeptics alike are invited to experience this dance and discover for themselves which melody gets their toes tapping.
Program A features five one-acts that are as different from each other as colors on a painter’s palette. Turnover, written by Chris Graybill and directed by Jeffrey Marcus, starts off the night with science fiction themes that are widely known to general audiences: futuristic technology, the evolution of a known social system – in this case the penal system – with new jargon and rules, and costumes and props are all things that are both familiar, but strange. However, this should not dissuade anyone to think that this work is a shallow, vanilla portrayal of science fiction. These tools are merely the medium with which the creators use to mold an interaction between two people that is both dark and reflective about the truth in human nature. The moments of tension and ease ebb and flow like water on the sand as it slowly builds to a high tide of realization of what the whole scene is really about.
The science fiction of Human History, written by Joel Silberman and directed by Malcolm Barrett and Matthew Leavitt, has more facts and delivers more comments about the world we live in today than any of the other acts in program A, despite the fact that the entirety of the story takes place on a different planet, time, and involves non-human beings. It is science fiction at it’s finest. Through the genre, the work holds a mirror on present-day society and dives into deep conversations about uncomfortable subjects like racism in a way that does not create tension in the room. In this allegory the audience is exposed to arguments from multiple perspectives on serious subjects while maintaining a lightness through the guise and distance that science fiction provides. Human History is a deeply impactful work that should be used as evidence for the importance of theatre in modern society.
The final performance before intermission is The Lunchtime Show written by G. Clarence Davidson and directed by Drew Barr. Set at a presumably typical “roadside attraction” such as the world’s largest ball of yarn the audience feels included in the experience of wanting to view a mysterious creature that could either be incredibly fascinating or a huge waste of time. The suspense keeps rising and rising as our tour guides, a small-town bumpkin and her dumb brother, tease and con their guests until the big payoff that can only be topped by the twist ending. Characters and audience members alike are entranced by the unknown spectacle that leaves them blind to what the real show is and it’s startling endgame.
Starting off the second part of the show is The Departed based on the short story by Clive Barker, adapted by Christian Francis, and directed by Ben Rock. This ethereal work focuses on the love it takes to let go of the things that are dearest to you. A recently dead wife and mother struggles with her new ghostly reality, the pain she feels as she witnesses the lives she left behind, and the struggle to say good-bye. Both haunting and sincere, it will leave you with the gentle reminder to not take for granted the time you have with the ones you love.
The final act of the evening is The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds based on a story by famed author Neil Gaiman, adapted by Michael Bernard, and directed by Annie McVey. This humorous tale relies heavily on the film noir genre as well as science fiction as characters and themes from nursery rhymes uncover the truth behind the death of Humpty Dumpty after his fated tragic fall. Witty dialogue, many set changes, referential quips that make you nostalgic for childhood bedtime stories all play together on a playground of rainy nights, femme fatales, and private eyes in a classic search of whodunit. The journey is complex and endearing leaving you wishing for one more classic character cameo or trope, but feeling completely satisfied in the end.
Sci-Fest is not a show to be missed for both fans and non-fans of the science fiction genre alike. There are enough relevant themes and messages conveyed to make the journey worthwhile. All one needs is an ear and appreciation for good storytelling.