500th Time Is a Charm with Talent to aMuse’s ‘HOPE’

Local theater guy O.P. Hadlock has so many plays under his belt that he oughta start considering suspenders. Not many belts around here can claim a track record of 500 shows — but if Hadlock had counted backward and worked even one of those pieces every five years, his body of effort would date to ancient Greece. The guy’s been all over the place in every discipline you can imagine, sometimes without the recognition granted his decidedly junior peers.

But that’s theater for ya. One man’s place in the wings is another man’s moment. The latter is currently in force with Talent to aMuse’s HOPE, director/writer Hadlock’s world-premiere sci-fi thriller about man and his worst enemy (one guess as to who that is). Millions on millions of miles can’t separate good from evil, even as a dark force permeates an interstellar freighter and its beleaguered captain keeps his head while others lose theirs.

The sci-fi genre might sit a bit different with seasoned patrons, but some decent interaction and artsy wordcraft propel this piece beyond itself — which is to say you could do a lot worse.

Capt. John Donovan (Patrick McBride, left) needs answers, and lots of them, from Clarice Hochman (Sandy Hotchkiss, right) as medical envoy Ramona Lorenzo (Carla Navarro) looks on. Photo by Daren Scott.

The crew of the derelict exploration ship HOPE, however, could not. Only one mysterious survivor recalls a grisly onboard attack as the ADH MOR ORT happens by, its motley crew mesmerized by the dollar signs that await HOPE‘s rescuers. To boot, everybody’s two months out from the nearest star system — plenty of time for the killer to terrorize the rescue craft as the bodies fall one by one.

Mystery eventually solved, colored by a clutch of hormonal young officers, a flirty medical envoy who loves men in uniform and a female navigator whose commanding officer has issued her a highly classified set of — uh — standing orders.

One doesn’t always associate science fiction with live theater, but the genre does have its presence in good adaptations like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and in events like Sci-Fest LA, an annual Los Angeles cavalcade of one-act plays. Hadlock holds forth here with a story he occasionally overexplains (too much attention to detail as the mystery unravels in the second act, too much stasis as the ADH MOR ORT crew explores HOPE) — but his sense of subtext is solid amid the crew’s antsy interplay and flesh-and-blood lives.

Two distinct personalities drive Clarice, and Hotchkiss owns both.

Moreover, Hadlock’s feel for cadence is unmistakable and in some cases quite remarkable. The rhythms in the speeches bob and weave in discernible time, playing to the ethereal points of reference for which the brain has been wired since the beginning.

There’s a fair ensemble culture at work here, except that the men under the captain’s command are too uniform in their affectations (each officer, although different in appearance, is as horny as the next, without much discernment in his savoir faire). And medical attache Ramona Lorenzo (Carla Navarro) may have a healthy sex life, but it’s hard to see how she came by it amid her extensive and serious background in medicine.

Even so, the male officers (Brendan MacNeil, Steve Murdock and James Steinberg) are clear on their assignments, deferring to senior women like navigator Christine Miller (Devi Noel) and challenging Capt. John Donovan (Patrick McBride) as the occasion warrants. For his part, Donovan is as levelheaded and democratic a leader as they come, and McBride delivers the captain’s sense of dedication accordingly. Everybody else is fine in supporting roles — and watch Sandy Hotchkiss as HOPE survivor Clarice Hochman. Two distinct personalities drive Clarice, and Hotchkiss owns both.

‘HOPE’ playwright O.P. Hadlock does more theater before lunch than you do in a lifetime.

Hadlock’s boxy, tech-heavy set and projections play to our postmodern fascination with gadgetry, especially that designed for space flight. Murdock’s sound, Michael Barahura’s lights and Ryan Dietrich’s costumes don’t stand on much ceremony — just like the crew.

I saw Hadlock play Frederick Treves in OnStage Playhouse’s The Elephant Man, from 2012; Hotchkiss helmed The Music Man in 2005 for Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Vanguard Players (I am dead serious when I say she absolutely crushed that show). Otherwise, I don’t recognize most anybody from this staff — and that’s actuallly kind of cool. I repeat: One man’s place in the wings is another man’s moment, and this relatively new crop of personnel clearly enjoys its part in the latter. The piece is a bit of a talkfest (sometimes with a capital T), but that doesn’t make it a bad show.

This review is based on the preview production of Feb. 12. HOPE runs from Feb. 17 through March 5 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center Main Stage Theatre, 930 Tenth Ave. downtown. $20, $25. 619-940-6813, TalenttoaMuse.com.

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  1. Julie Chilton on February 25, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    I think you have been overly kind with this review. I saw this play when I was in San Diego last weekend and it dragged dreadfully. Fully 45 minutes of the first act was the characters listening to what amounted to a radio broadcast, with virtually no action on stage! And the constant sexual comments were silly and forced…and not how professionals would behave in a mission. To be honest, I was so uninvested in the plot that I left at intermission. There might be a good,story in there, but some serious cuts and more action is needed.

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