Strange Love in Outer Space

Strange Love in NYC

When it debuted in Yale Cabaret's 2009/10 Season, Janyia Antrum's campy sci-fi musical Strange Love in Outer Space was the success story of The Dwight/Edgewood Project (see my review here).  Now its success continues with the play's debut in New York in the eclectic and exciting New York Fringe Festival, Aug. 14, 17, 19, 21, and 23, including a mention in the New York Times. The Dwight/Edgewood Project is held every July under the auspices of Yale School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theater.  It's a four week program that introduces New Haven area kids to the elements of theater, from playwrighting and design to acting and directing, with classes staffed by Yale School of Drama students.  For the last two years, August Lewis Troup Middle School and Wexler-Grant Community School have been partners in the project.

Janyia wrote the first part of Strange Love in summer 2009, at the age of twelve.  When she got home after the project ended, she felt the urge to continue the story and wrote a second part.  The Yale Cabaret commissioned a third act and then produced the play.  Jorge Rodriguez, who has worked with Janyia as a producer from the beginning, comments: Janyia "wrote a play that was incredibly well structured, with outstanding character development and incredibly funny."  The play impressed her fellow students at D/EP and the staff "was stunned by her sense of comedic timing.  The zany, campy humor that distinguishes this play were of her own creation and a result, as she often joked about, of years of watching TV sitcoms like The Nanny."

Christopher Mirto, who directed the D/EP production and the Yale Cab production, is at the helm again for the Fringe production.  He also plays the memorable role of Mr. Grumis, a fish-like alien who courts the statuesque Splontusia.  For Mirto, the play works for a lot of reasons:

"Janyia's story is actually really moving and has a strong leading female character. It's campy fun but very serious and imaginative and comes from such a genuine place. It's surprisingly smart, has great comic timing, [and] the songs move the plot forward; the characters are crazy, but have very clear desires. The Fringe is a good fit because it's an unusual show in style, form, characters, design. It doesn't have a big or complicated design, so it's easy to transfer. Kind of like Pixar films, it appeals to adults and children."

The Fringe version features some of the same cast as the Cabaret version -- Mirto, and his longtime associate Brian Valencia, who also mentored Janyia in D/EP, as the dastardly Dr. Tuscanunin -- but also presents some changes, with Caitlin Clouthier, from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, in the central role of multi-eyed Splontusia, and recent YSD graduate Aja Naomi King as B'Quisha Star Jones, the dog/pirate queen.  The new production also boasts a new song.

The Fringe is a huge, sprawling drama festival that Mirto calls "a total crapshoot."  The sublime and the ridiculous rub shoulders and you go in not quite knowing what you're going to get.  Strange Love has already proven itself capable of mixing it up with the challenging and off-the-wall offerings of the Cab, and now it will run side-by-side with the off-off-Broadway shows of the West Village.

Mirto's excited by the challenge and comments, "There is this really nice non-jaded aspect of Janyia that is refreshing for me: she reminds me that it should be fun, it should entertain, and it should be simple; and that imagination goes a long way!"

It's an imagination that has created a play that's out of this world, a play that has already gone a long way from an afterschool project to a New York city debut.

Strange Love in Outer Space, A Musical Traumedy

Book and Lyrics by Janyia Antrum; Music by Nick Morgan; Directed by Christopher Mirto

The Cherry Pit (venue #14), 155 Bank Street, New York, NY (West & Washington Street)

Sat. Aug. 14, 2:15 p.m.; Tues. Aug. 17, 10:30 p.m.; Thurs. Aug. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat. Aug. 21, 5:30 p.m.; Mon. Aug. 23, 4 p.m; Tickets $15-$18; for tickets:

Presented by The New York International Fringe Festival; A Production of The Present Company

Love is a many-creatured thing

Strange Love in Outer Space, the final show by the Yale Cabaret this semester (two shows tonight; three on Sat, including an early show for kids), was written by Janyia Antrum, a twelve-year-old student who participated in the Dwight/Edgewood Project last summer.  The program gives local 6th and 7th graders from Augusta Lewis Troup and Wexler-Grant Community Schools an opportunity to work with Yale School of Drama theater people. Janyia was mentored by Brian Valencia, a dramaturg. The one-act that Janyia wrote in two days at the D/EP’s weekend retreat got a second act after she went home and dreamed about the characters’ further adventures.  The Yale Cab commissioned a third act to find out where the characters were going, and the full trilogy, produced by Jorge Rodriguez and directed by Christopher Mirto, has now had its debut.

What kind of characters?  The main figure is Splontusia (Alex Hendrikson), a four-eyed, one-armed creature who gets transformed into being mean and evil by an injection from the mean and evil Dr. Roswald Tuscanium (Dr. T, for short; Valencia), a worm-like creature with a slit for eyes, truncated arms, and a long trailing body.  By end of act one, however, these two would-be antagonists have admitted that, yes, there’s something charming about that slit and something bewitching about the gleam in that fourth eye...

Romantic complications ensue with the addition, in act two, of Grumis (Mirto), an aquatic creature with a rather dim-witted if likeable delivery who has always loved Splontusia, and, in act three, of the outrageously named Bonegettagettaquisha Star Jones (Dipika Guha), a pirate woman who happens to be part dog, and who has kinda had a crush on Dr T ever since science class back in high school.

And, yes, there are songs.  In fact, be prepared to get on your feet for the rousing “the way love moves in outer space” finale.

I don’t know if Janyia has ever seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I assume that her cast and mentors have, and they maintain a similiar level of zany engagement and campy silliness that made that film such a hit.  Dr T laughs diabolically and snivels pathetically; Grumis sings like an insecure kid on Sesame Street and then belts out his beloved’s name, “Splon-tuuu-syaaaaa,” like Stanley Kowalski with fins (and how he does those fish-hops I’ll never know).  And once Splontusia starts vacillating (Dr. T did chain her to a toilet, after all), B.S. J. arrives as a possible new match for Dr T; she growls and howls yet still manages to exude the charm of a funky Puss In Boots; and Splontusia herself, all in white, at a regal height, towering above the rest of the cast, veers in a mercurial manner from ditzy to heart-felt to aggressive to, finally, someone ready to be her own person.

See it to support young talent!  See it to meet creatures you won’t find anywhere else!  See it for the toilet bowl song!

Strange Love in Outer Space What does it take to make a relationship work? by Janyia Antrum (2009 Dwight/Edgewood Playwright) Directed by Christopher Mirto December 4 @ 8 and 11PM December 5 @ 4, 8 and 11PM Love just got a whole lot stranger. A trilogy of plays begun in the Dwight/Edgewood Project.