Review: "Space Nunz of the Rescue Mainframe" Makes a Flawless Touchdown in Brooklyn

Space Nunz of the Rescue Mainframe

Written by Elizabeth Wong, based on material generated by Hook & Eye Theater

Directed by Chad Lindsey

Presented by Hook & Eye Theater at The Mark O’Donnell Theater at The Entertainment Community Fund Arts Center

160 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NYC

October 26-November 13, 2022

L to R: Parnia "Nyx" Ayari, Afsheen Misaghi, and June Lienhard. Photo courtesy The PR Social
No, Space Nunz of the Rescue Mainframe is not the latest film to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Rather, this delightfully titled work is the latest production from Hook & Eye Theater, a sci-fi comedy with a melancholic streak that also incorporates audience choice at selected points, in the manner of a choose-your-own adventure book or video game conversation tree. With Space Nunz, the redoubtable Hook & Eye balances the riotous and the reflective in an entertainingly energetic exploration of outer and inner space.

In an opening scene that makes attention-grabbing use of darkness and neon, we meet the interstellar nunz, part of an order dedicated to recovering and preserving the history of an unlivable Earth for a humanity that now persists in various offworld colonies. Soon, the bulk of the crew departs for mandatory vacation in recognition of Mars Day, leaving behind only Sister Ignatius (Cynthia Babak), who goes by Iggy, and Sister Olympus Mons (Elizabeth London), or Olly for short. Although Sister Olly is more than ready to enjoy her vacation plans, Sister Iggy plans to stay behind and work on a cache of recovered twenty-first-century vlog entries known as The Chloe Chronicles, and Olly is not about to let Iggy do this on her own. Perched atop a tubular white structure reminiscent of those old Capsela Spacelink toy sets, Iggy and Olly interface with Daffodil (Nylda Mark), an A.I. of few words but many emojis whose past as a trash compactor seems fitting for an existence dedicated to preserving the ephemera of human experience. The files which they peruse construct the play's second, parallel narrative, which concerns university dropout-turned-vlogger Chloe (June Lienhard), from whom the Chronicles take their name, and her dive-bar owning brother, Cam (Jake Malavsky), both of whom are regarded as underachieving by their WASP-y mother, Sahara (Carrie Heitman). Cam has just met and is attracted to Nik (Afsheen Misaghi), who is on medical leave from the military. Nik's mother, Leela (Parnia "Nyx" Ayari) immigrated to the United States from Iran to escape government oppression, but it is events from a more recent past that will come to the fore as the characters' New Hampshire town approaches its Founders' Day celebration.
An example of the show's backdrops. Photo courtesy The PR Social
The echo across centuries and storylines of Mars Day and Founder's Day also points to the persistence of the human proclivity to narrativize. Space Nunz lays out its concerns with memory and storytelling from its very first scene, wondering where old memories go and identifying stories as tools for survival. Iggy and Olly's disagreement over the importance of creativity versus accuracy in preserving and presenting stories highlights the human desire for satisfying narrative beats and structure and our willingness to impose them, intentionally or otherwise, where they do not exist. Iggy and Olly affect Chloe's stories in the very process of archiving and (re)presenting them, just as Chloe herself has done through the mediating filter of the vlog. Similarly, Chloe fits Nik into a common, preconceived (social) narrative with which it turns out that he disagrees, and, in one unexpected and evocative sequence, Leela demonstrates that the "was" of a person survives within her "is," that one remains inseparable from one's past stories, however altered by memory and repetition they may be. The play's pick-a-path elements, cleverly conducted via laser pointer, replicate these themes on yet another layer; and even the show's ending reserves some narrative agency for its spectators.

One might see as a further layer the use of A.I.-generated art of the DALL·E variety (i.e., produced by the A.I. from a set of inputted keywords) in the production's projected backdrops. The set design in combination with the future-slang and intertextual allusions woven through the dialogue create a feeling of textural richness, and the talented cast handles hilarity and poignancy with equal assurance. "Filters" applied by Iggy and Olly at a certain stage to the recovered vlog material give the performers a chance to take the comedy really big, with irresistibly funny results (watching Babak and Londo's nunz watching these scenes is entertaining in itself). Your own memories of Space Nunz of the Rescue Mainframe may not end up etched on a golden record floating to the ends of the universe, but, as the play ultimately affirms, that won't make them any less valuable.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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