By Michael Bracken
Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
Well, of course it is! Turbulence!, part of the Fringe Encore Series, rocks the Soho Playhouse more than Margo Channing could ever have imagined. The bumps are actually convulsions of laughter evoked by the hilarity onstage, courtesy of Miles Crosman and Robot Teammate, (book and lyrics) and Sam Johnides (music director, with additional composition by Branson NeJame and Robot Teammate).
Robot Teammate, in case you’re wondering, is a Los Angeles-based musical comedy collective of which all the cast are members. Turbulence! comes to the Fringe Encore Series direct from the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
The turbulence in question does not occur on a conventional aircraft. It’s 4242, and we’re at the Intergalympics, an interplanetary competition featuring Mars vs. Earth in a race around the sun. Mars always wins, because Mars, in the forty-third century, is where the money is. Earth is the home of the poor. Still, the crew of the S.S. Albacore, the spaceship competing for Earth, is determined, most of the time, that 4242 will be different.
Every crew member has his/her own issues, keeping them from fully connecting with each other. Capt. Davin Galaxy (Miles Crosman) is the son of Jeff Galaxy, the legendary racer who died representing Planet Earth in an unsuccessful run for the gold. The ship’s pilot is Pattern MaGerk (Molly Dworsky), head of her class at the Racing Academy. She feels alienated from the rest of the crew and is especially hurt that Galaxy, with whom she shared a cockpit for two semesters at the academy, doesn’t recognize her.
Dr. Joules Johnson (Kat Primeau) is the ship’s science officer. She invented the Turbulence Turbine, the secret weapon on which the Albacore is pinning its hopes for victory. But she’s also a juicehead, taking swigs of illegal, addictive fruit juice on the sly, even after she’s been caught by MaGerk. Mick Cribbins (Chris Bramante) built the Albacore from discarded tuna fish cans. Not the brightest star in the galaxy, he affectionately calls his wrench Wrenchy and worships some sort of lizard god.
And then there’s Mambo 4 (Dave Reynolds), a discontinued model of an android, prone to technical glitches. Like most droids, he yearns to be human, not seeing that he probably has more heart than all his fellow crew members put together.
He’s also the funniest character of the lot and a riot in Reynolds’s hands. Always there to serve his human masters, he bumps into walls and repeats himself again and again until given a thwack on the back. Reynolds is a hulk of a guy, and that somehow makes Mambo 4’s robotic movements and self-effacing personality all the funnier.
And speaking of movement, Kat Primeau’s choreography (with Philomena “Philly” Cortese) is elegantly goofy. It consists mostly of the entire crew’s executing simple arm and leg movements in unison, tiny kicks and perfunctory bends that complement Turbulence’s comic tone delightfully.
Costumes are simple with a hint of the futuristic: shiny silver jackets, with pants that are doffed to reveal shiny silver gym shorts. Two Martians (band members Sam Johnides and Branson NeJame) appear at times to taunt the Albacore crew, which they do with relish. Their outfits are, like their planet, red.
Music is light and tuneful. Songs maintain the same mock seriousness that infuses the spoken parts of the show. Director Lauren Pritchard, with additional direction from Molly Dworsky and Dave Reynolds, keeps it amazingly smooth, notwithstanding asteroid showers and other causes of turbulence. It’s all of a piece, with fine performances all around from the game cast.
Photos: Matt Kamimura
Through October 22, 2017, at the Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam Street). www.sohoplayhouse.com . 65 minutes with no intermission.