If you’re like me, you might have heard about the Mars One mission in passing back in 2015. The concept was that kind of science-fiction that seemed tantalizingly close to reality; a one-way manned mission to Mars and the promise of being the first humans on the red rock. You might have read the People article interviewing the semi-finalists or potentially heard about the immediate financial troubles of the initiative. More likely, though, you might have asked yourself the more abstract, philosophical, and somewhat obvious question: if given the opportunity, would you give up everything to make history?
How to Live on Earth follows the stories of four candidates as they grapple with the real-world complexities of applying to become the first Martians. Omar, Aggie, Elenor, and Bill each lobby for their own unique skills and personalities to be considered for the mission, but also come with their own emotional baggage. When Omar isn’t making videos playing up the importance of his computer programming skills, we follow dialogue between him and his boyfriend on why Earth is and never will be enough. When Elenor is outside of the exam room, we follow her budding relationship with a poet and her watch her wrestle with the conflicting desires of grand ambitions and strong relationships.
These are conflicts that exist in the minutiae of day-to-day life, but are given a grand stage thanks to the highly unusual circumstances of the setting. The all-or-nothing approach to the storytelling amplifies the drama between the characters. Despite being such a black and white decision, each character presents their stance with healthy doses of moral nuance that will have you switching sides mid monologue. The personal stories are varied and well written; each of the vignettes capitalize on the unique sci-fi concept that ask interesting questions about life goals and the relationships affected by them.
However, the passion that should be felt from these high stakes circumstances are just not delivered through the performances. The drama could not be higher given the life-or-death situations of each character, yet most quarrels between the cast members play out like inconsequential spats. For example, when application results don’t go a characters way, I want to see and feel the fury of a life’s dream dashed, rather than a minor annoyance expressed through a light toss of a stage prop. Throughout the show I wanted the characters to push harder, care louder, and sell bigger to express the gravity of the situation they find themselves in. While there are bright spots in the production, the general acting quality could use refinement as to improve the overall consistency from scene to scene.
Overall, the quality of the writing and unique setting generally offset the inconsistent acting. It is highly likely that the questions posed in the narrative will resonate with the balancing acts we do every day on Earth. If the concept intrigues you and you’d like to explore the human, emotional cost of such a grand ambition, then this show comes recommended and is well worth your time. (Ryan Moore)
How to Live on Earth time continues at Collaboraction Studios through 3/24. Info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in the TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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