Would a Ventriloquist's Dummy Crack Wise on Mars?

How to translate a century-old sci-fi novel to a 20-foot stage

It's a technique that has drawn criticism in the past. A 2004 Star Tribune review of Hardcover's adaptation of Alcott's Behind a Mask, for instance, suggested that "the style cheapens the hard work of subtext, implication, and mystery."

The actors don't seem to mind. "It didn't seem strange to me in any way," counters Bob Malos, who played Captain Wolf Larson in The Sea Wolf last year--although he points out that his role didn't require him to narrate to the audience. "There is first-person narration in lots of plays. People talk about it in Steve's adaptations because he always uses it."

It's not as though directly addressing the audience is anything new: Shakespeare relied plenty upon the device. Henry V opens with an appeal for overlooking technical limitations: "Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did afright the air at Agincourt?"

Steve Schroer: On Mars, this is a Q-tip
David Fick
Steve Schroer: On Mars, this is a Q-tip


The fact that Hardcover has developed a sort-of trademark style suggests something about its particular spot in the local theater ecosystem. The troupe seems to be at a point in its life where it will find a wider audience or join the ranks of worthy experiments that withered from lack of interest and funding. Schroer mentions the difficulty in breaking into a scene composed of many longtime residents, as well as the strain of writing adaptations, handling administrative tasks, and directing the lion's share of Hardcover shows.

"I have great faith in the idea of the theater," he says. "But we don't really have the resources we need."

Hardcover, of course, isn't alone in scrambling for a piece of the pie. The theater collective 15 Head gave up the ghost last year, and Pigs Eye and Fifty Foot Penguin have recently curtailed their seasons. Schroer seems more adept at the artistic end of running a company than the management part, and mentions a need for administrative help. Put another way, he admits he "isn't a great politician."

He surely hasn't made the actor's job any easier with the erratic collection of roles in his latest audition. Back in the church, a young and guileless man tackles a reading of Tal Hajus. And though it's hard to say what a sadistic outsized Martian would sound like, it probably isn't like this. If anything, this game attempt comes off like a parody of the tentacled aliens that turn up annually in Simpsons Halloween specials.

"But I would rather watch your beautiful face writhe in the agony of torture," the actor says. "It shall be long, drawn out--that I promise you. Four, six, eight moons of pleasure would be too short to show the love I harbor for your race!"

It only takes an eight-minute sight-read, however, to see that this space opera will be another of Hardcover's labors of love.

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