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OFFBEAT THEATRE: ‘Inherit the Stars’ blends franchise fandom and fun plot elements

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The Browncoat Pub and Theatre fills a special role in our community: part nerd-core sci-fi bar (the name is an allusion to “Firefly”), part incubator of original theatrical work. Their current offering comes with the original script, “Inherit the Stars” by Ray Wagner. And it’s a perfect hybrid of what Browncoat is.

The set up is simple but clever: A couple are in custody court arguing whether their soon-to-be-born child’s nursery will be decorated in “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” and who will raise the child. Played by playwright Wagner as the husband and a rotating door of actresses as his wife (Brenna Wallace, Claira Ermis, Rachel McAuley and Caroline Wagner are all credited with sharing the role during the run), the couple communicate silently across the courtroom, but leave the talking to their lawyers. Kerr Mason (Brandy Jones) represents the wife, who wants “Star Wars” to be the narrative of choice for the expected miracle. Matthew (Matt) Locke (Josh Lowery) speaks for the husband and “Star Trek” for the next generation.               

Wagner’s script wanders a bit from the promised discussion—the impending nursery and child are very much an afterthought. What this is really about is framing the most virulent debate in fandom: “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”?

Much of the modern “convention culture” can be traced to the “Star Trek” world’s rise in popularity and the Trekkie conventions that rose in its support and celebration. Writer and actor appearances are key elements, along with Q&A panels and the unveiling of new characters or plot elements. Much of what this script explores is a bit of a homage to the passionate fandom both these engender. But Wager is prepared to poke fun at the extreme obsessions people develop.

After impassioned opening speeches, the first witness is called: Phillip Charles (Chris Schatzle), an avowed “Star Wars” fan. He argues the entire direction of his life was shaped by a birthday present: seeing “Return of the Jedi.” Schatzle gets to flex his acting muscles in this show with two very different characters to portray. The first is the cringing, stuttering Charles whose world unravels more quickly on the stand than one would hope for anyone. The other is Ollie Daniels, who appears in court in a “Star Trek” uniform—a nice visual reference to the dismissed OJ juror. By contrast, Daniels is the supremely calm, self-possessed imitation of a Vulcan, who argues for the empowerment of the fandom by the creators of “Star Trek.”

For sheer excitement value, few witnesses could ever compete with Kire Stenson’s creation of Laurie Flynn. Blue hair, absurd vintage dress and more obsessive energy than one ever imagines is packed into one body. She is out to shock, and she does.

But the obvious witness to call to discuss the difference between “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” is, of course, JJ Abrams (Beau Mumford)—the only man to directly work in both universes. Mumford plays up his curly brown locks and adds glasses, visually invoking Abrams. Yet, perhaps it is his hamster-like attention span—coupled with an almost reticent interest in responding directly to an question—that is the most evocative of Abrams. 

For me, at least, the judge (Eric Ganey) has the best lines in the show (“If you want exercise, join Cross Fit!”). Woe be unto him to be saddled with this absurd case. He just wants to try to keep everybody in line and move things forward. His natural sarcasm makes the delivery of his lines that much more delightful for the audience. And they, to certain extent, aren’t quite sure how this is going to turn out.

Trying to keep these two eager-beaver young lawyers on course is a big job; neither are cooperating very much. Jones is the uber-professional, over-compensating stereotype of a female lawyer playing in the boys club. Lowery goes straight to the attack at every turn. Watching him disintegrate during the course of the show as the real conflict between these two emerges is pretty entertaining.

Director Courtney Harding has assembled an interesting blend of seasoned and novice performers to give the production a feeling not unlike the sense created by both entertainment franchises. It’s a blend of classic with eager young talent. And it’s really creative and fun—a fabulous trip through pop culture and human psychology.

My date for the evening cannot separate “Star Trek” from “Star Wars.” He genuinely has no idea that the Enterprise is not Han Solo’s ship. (But ask him who won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1957 and he can tell you—it’s incredible.) Yet. he had great time and laughed out loud throughout the show.

I must admit: Wagner and Harding tap into something that tries to look at the obsessions from an adult perspective, and while discussing them intelligently (and debunking some of their myths) still pay homage to the love that both worlds inspire to countless people around the globe. If anyone’s looking for something offbeat and conversation-inspiring to do with a date, this is a great choice. It’s guaranteed to keep the chatter alive until the wee hours of the morn.

Inherit the Stars
August 4-7 and 11-14, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10-$15
Browncoat Pub & Theatre
111 Grace St.

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