The Maui Arts & Cultural Center last season introduced Maui to a new form of theater with "Intergalactic Nemesis Book One: Target Earth," a live-action graphic novel and 1930s radio show. There used to be an Oregon-based PBS show called "Matinee at the Bijou," and the best part was watching the old episodic serials that preceded the film. One of my favorites was the 1930s' "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." The costumes and the special effects were ridiculous and the acting was terrible, yet I couldn't take my eyes off it. Although certainly inspired by that era of science fiction, the "Intergalactic" team offers a much more polished and cutting-edge take on the genre.
The sequel to this adventure is "Intergalactic Nemesis Book Two: Robot Planet Rising." Last year, I likened the show to watching a tennis match: Viewers' eyes dart across the stage in a futile attempt to catch all the action.
Cast member Chris Gibson, who plays Ben Wilcott, as well as 10 other characters, commented on how to watch the show. "It can be a different experience for everyone in the audience, even if you've seen it before. Where you sit in the theater can create a different experience, and it just depends on where you choose to put your focus."
Sound foley artist Cami Alys
Alexis Buatti-Ramos photo
“Intergalactic Nemesis” includes David Higgins (from left), Danu Uribe and Chris Gibson, along with sound foley artist Cami Alys.
Alexis Buatti-Ramos photo
Creator Jason Neulander blends artwork for an original comic book story, removes the word "balloons," and then projects that art, panel-by-panel, on a two-story-high movie screen. Meanwhile, three actors voice the characters, one performer creates the sound-effects, and a keyboardist performs the score live.
I inquired how the concept all started. "In the mid-'90s, I had a small theater called Salvage Vanguard (in Austin, Texas)," Neulander said. "A friend who owned a coffee shop asked me to put together a live science-fiction radio show to be performed at the cafe. If something sounds like fun, I don't worry about how to do it or how to pay for it; I say, 'Let's just do it.' It became wildly popular and just kept evolving into a larger production."
That success led to a performance in the 2,400-seat Long Center in Austin. "I thought the room was just too large for a little radio play, so that is when we added the movie screen and began projecting the artwork to fill the stage," he said.
>> Catch "Intergalactic Nemesis Book Two: Robot Planet Rising" at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 in Castle Theater. General admission tickets are $28 with half price available for kids 12 and younger, plus applicable fees. Visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
Gibson joined the cast just before the graphic images were added to the show. "It certainly made it more accessible to a wider swath of the public," he said. "The radio aspect assumes you have an affinity for that era and style; the visual stimulus opens it up for more generations. It's great to have kids come up and ask for autographs after the show, but my favorite are their grandparents that remember those old shows from when they were kids."
I wondered if he had a familiarity with radio serials before "Intergalactic."
"Just vaguely at first, but I've since become a big fan of the genre," Gibson said. "The snappy pace and rapid-fire dialogue requires you to really pay attention. Some of it is based on adventure dramas like 'Indiana Jones,' but I'm also influenced by episodes of 'The Shadow' and films like 'His Girl Friday.' After three years, we've developed a pace as an ensemble. The action and jokes are fast and furious, and there's never a dull moment."
Creating the more than 1,250 images for "Book Two" is artist David Hutchison.
I asked Neulander if collaboration brought this large-scale show to life. "The words have always been scripted, and there have been multiple writers over the years," he said. "The slideshow is reliant upon line cues, and it would be catastrophic if it was improvised. In 2007, I did an overhaul of "Book One" with Chad Nichols, and he also co-wrote "Book Two." Three years ago, Jason attended a booking conference with the hope of getting five venues in the Midwest to add "Intergalactic Nemesis" to their seasons. He left with 33 offers. Since 2011, the show has toured half of the continental United States as well as Canada, Scotland and, of course, Maui.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the production is the sound foley artist who creates hundreds of live sound effects onstage. "I wanted a musician to do it, perhaps a drummer, someone with a good sense of rhythm," Neulander said. "Buzz Moran created most of the sounds from a collection of noisemaking toys he had in his closet."
Moran performed in the 2013 Maui production, but this year Cami Alys takes on the job. "They've been switching off on the tour since 2011, and this year it was Cami's turn to come to Maui," Neulander said. "She originally had auditioned to do voiceover; she wasn't quite right, but she has this great stage presence and personality, plus she is also a musician and just a joy to watch onstage."
I asked Alys her reaction to being cast as the foley artist. "I was surprised. It was like nothing I've ever done. It was definitely a book of information that was brand new to me, but I was excited to take on something new."
Alys' background is in music and theater, singing, playing ukulele, bass, piano and percussions. "I'll play anything I can get my hands on," she said. "This was a great way to utilize my brain, all my limbs and performance skills at once."
Does she have a favorite sound effect? "It changes every night," Alys said. "I react to the audience's reactions. But the thunder sheet is always popular, and the toy truck is a lot of fun."
If you saw "Book One," it's the same format. But "Book Two" is an entirely new story, and no previous "Intergalactic" experience is necessary. The story, set in 1933, involves prize-winning reporter Molly Sloan (Danu Uribe), her bumbling research assistant Timmy Mendez (David Higgins) and Wilcott, a mysterious librarian. The trio travels to Zygon, where the team faces robots from outer space and the most terrible threat humanity has ever known - an invading force of sludge-monsters. When the robot emissary, Elbee-Dee-Oh, disappears in deep space, it's up to Molly to rescue him. Unbeknownst to her, her former fiance, Dr. Lawrence Webster, has arrived on Robonovia; the "Cerebretron" is malfunctioning; a sinister robot named Alphatron is up to something terribly nefarious; and Soviet spy Natasha Zorokov has followed Dr. Webster through the "Galactascope."
In true serial fashion: "Will it all get sorted out? Or is there another, more evil thread to this complex tapestry?"
Don't miss the final weekend of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," with music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin, conceived by Rebecca Feldman and directed by Jonathan Lehman. Performances are at 7:30 tonight, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $25, with a kamaaina discount for Hawaii residents tonight. For tickets or more information, call ProArts at 463-6550.
Maui OnStage continues its free theater series, ONO!, with Bernard Slate's romantic comedy, "Same Time, Next Year," starring Alexis and Steven Dascoulias, at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Historic Iao Theater. The ONO! performances are held the second Monday of every month at the theater.