The Off-Central’s last production of their 2022/23 season is a science fiction fantasy play, Revenge of the Space Panda or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock, by David Mamet.
Revenge of the Space Pandas: Background and Plot
The play opens in the Waukegan, Illinois bedroom of Binky Rudich, a young boy (played by Broderick Gorman), and his friends Vivian (Savannah Ford-Myers) and Bob (Ian Miller). They accidentally activate a device Binky has been working on, an unusual two-speed clock. It transports them to a distant planet called Crestview, Fourth World in the Goolagong System, populated by various aliens… and some space pandas.
Two space pandas, Buffy (Stan Gurvitz), and Boots (Andy Terrazas), befriend the trio. Gurvitz and Terrazas play well as a comic duo and give the best performances of the production. They’ll help the young teens back home, but first the space pandas must take them to their leader, another alien (but not a space panda.) This over-the-top and sometimes absent-minded tyrannical ruler, George Topax (David Warner) has an assistant, Hank the Retainer, (Dylan Barlowe). Topax wears a turban; Hank, office attire but, for some unexplained reason, also a leather chest harness and a panda finger puppet. The Earthlings discover Topax wants to “Wack ’em off!” with a giant pumpkin and shave Bob’s fur to make a coat.
Here’s where it gets confusing.
It turns out Bob is a sheep. The whole performance, I thought Bob was a teenage boy. I assumed the aliens and space panda called him a sheep as a form of insult because the play is full of absurd dialogue. If the actors made this clear at the start, I missed it.
To my point: This was a hard production to follow. The plot is bizarre, meaning storytelling clarity is vital. This production lacks clarity. Why is there a poster of the food pyramid on the walls of an alien planet? Why does Hank wear a leather chest harness?
Opening night had muffled sound issues, and important lighting effects underwhelmed. The set designer got out of the audience to assist in moving a set piece—all distractions.
A set piece along the upstage wall takes time for the actors to assemble between scenes. It suggests a big payoff that never comes. Actors stand under the frame that holds the giant half-pumpkin. Apparently, it’s an alien torture device, but nothing happens with it. The flaps don’t open. The pumpkin doesn’t fall. It unnecessarily took up limited space. The time it took to assemble this set piece more than once took away from the show’s pace.
The Off Central has a beautiful small playing space – emphasis on small.
A play with a large cast, multiple scenes, and a fantastical story in a room this size needs a minimal set design, pieces actors can quickly bring on and off to represent each location. This production has nine actors and three bulky set pieces, and the actor awkwardly maneuvers around because the stage area is limited. While ambitious, this production’s set is visually cluttered and noisy, making the story harder to understand.
The Off-Central is a gem of a small studio space. Productions in this space need to work in harmony with the environment. Minimalism is key. Revenge of the Space Pandas needed bare minimalism to work in this space. Otherwise, this play requires a large production budget and a larger playing space, neither of which The Off-Central has.
See the Space Pandas
Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock The Off-Central Players, 2260 1st Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Through May 21: Weds.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; and Sun., 3 p.m. $35-$55 (Weds., pay what you can) theoffcentral.com; 727-202-7019.
Directed by Katie Calahan. Lighting & scenic design by Mike Horn. Costume design by Lindsay Ellis.
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