The Browncoat Pub and Theatre continues its mission to produce original works with Richard Fife’s “The Sun Chasers.” As Fife notes in the program, the production began as a bedtime story for his son and grew into an 80-page play.
Indeed, the show has the feel of a fairy tale. Nemo (Jef Pollock) wakes up on a flying ship with no memory of who he is or how he got there. The captain (Ron Hasson) and first mate (Brandy Jones) decide to let him organically remember who he is rather than tell him what is going on.
The ship has just caught the sun and is now flying ever just behind it, so the sun cannot set and night cannot come for those on the ship. The engineer (Josh Bailey) is having trouble with the problems that a flying ship—which no one has ever seen before—encounters. Among them is an overly anxious helper played by Miranda Cox, who injures herself. Things wouldn’t be so bad if the ship’s doctor (Courtney Harding) had some faith in herself.
Therein lies the rub: None of these people have faith in themselves. They seek it or avoid it, but none of them have confidence. Allusions are made throughout the script that each character has something they are eschewing, which brings them together to build a sun-chasing ship, except Nemo, who has no idea how he got there or why.
Pollock is best known to Wilmington audiences from his years with the sketch comedy troupe Changing Channels. It’s a rare treat to see him in a dramatic role. Actually, director Robb Mann makes several interesting casting choices. Hasson plays an unfulfilled adult son struggling for his father’s approval. It’s intriguing to watch an actor who frequently stars as a villain, scamp or character role take on such a task. His naked, unspoken need is palpable. He and Pollock communicate volumes without speaking.
It is clear that Fife is more comfortable writing for two men or a father and daughter because the exchanges between the sisters don’t flow with the same ease like the dialogue between the male characters. The dialogue he writes for the men is very strong. Bailey and Pollock especially have a good rapid-fire rapport; actually, it facilitates the first moment Pollock thaws and starts finding his sea legs in this strange situation. Bailey is clearly an over-looked middle child who struggles to balance his sense of responsibly with a desire to please his parents and the defacto parents of his older siblings. As a father, Fife can write a powerful father-daughter scene, which Brandy Jones sells to the best of her ability. Her voice cracks, and she sheds believable tears.
The fairy tale-like scenario is about always being in the light, in the moment. It’s represents not aging and keeping things at stasis where all problems are frozen and all fears are far off. The show is relatively short (ending roughly at 9:30 p.m.). There could be time to explore more of each character’s backstory. It’s hinted that they are each there for their own reasons, but the reveal could be more powerful with the addition of their individual stories and the inclusion of a collective moment of realization as a family. It also leaves the audience to question what is keeping the characters there.
Cox’s character, youngest child, unknowingly is the focus of much of the family attention. It again reflects Fife’s lens as a father. Her character struggles for respect and independence, while also reveling in everyone’s attention. It clearly comes written by someone who has watched and experienced this phenomenon from several points of observation.
When things are unexplainable or unknown to the characters they are able to explore it on the ship. They effectively move into a spot in the universe where time stops, but the human heartbeat does not. How is that possible? What impact could or would that have on machinery? On perception? These all are questions that could be addressed in the play.
Richard Blaylock’s set design is striking in beautiful, vibrant colors to reflect the sun’s light. The mulitlevel set accentuates the difficult emotions the performers are surfing throughout the show as they rise and descend before our eyes. It is another tool Mann uses to remind audiences that these highs and lows of life are what make life worth living. To stay forever on a perfectly even keel—though it might sound enviable—lacks the depth that makes life fulfilling. The constant low-level pulse of light coming in behind one of the windows is a nice touch to remind audiences of the power of the sun in our lives, both literally and metaphorically.
I admit: The show piques my curiosity. Very often original works rehash David Mamet or Sam Sheppard and result in a family drama of painful proportions or a coming-of-age story that is more of the same. Fife’s script, on the other hand, is a fantasy-adventure story brought to stage. It is refreshing to see something so different, but the genre comes with an entirely cluster of challenges. The dialogue not only sets the exposition but it must explain the character’s reality. Fife rises to the challenge and the cast follows with great excitement.
The story shows a deeper and very frightening universal human experience. Mann and the cast step back from the safety and the trappings of the fantasy they collectively buy into. Instead, they dwell in bare and exposed emotions just long enough to remind us that fear drives the human experience.
We are lucky to have so much daring, original theatre in development in this town. “The Sun Chasers” is a risky but successful attempt at a production that is truly unlike anything else currently onstage locally. It’s perfect for anyone looking to support original, creative endeavors.
The Sun Chasers
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace Street
Thurs.-Sun., Sept. 18th-28th, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinee: 5 p.m.