Gremlin rides a Rocket to the Moon

Peter Christian Hansen and Jane Froiland.
Peter Christian Hansen and Jane Froiland.
Photo by Aaron Fenster

Clifford Odets didn't rush anything in Rocket to the Moon, his examination of desperate lives in the late 1930s. The play moves at the languid pace of a hot New York City summer.

It's worth the ride, especially in Gremlin Theatre's absorbing production. In a stuffy and seemingly never-used dentists' waiting room, several characters find their lives at a crossroads.

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There is Ben (Peter Christian Hansen), a henpecked dentist who realizes that his life, as he approaches 40, is nothing like the one he envisioned for himself. Then there is Cleo (Jane Froiland), his young secretary who is eager to recreate herself. The two discover an attraction. which leads to a low-key summer affair that threatens to upend both of their lives.

Why? Ben's wife, Belle (Daisy Macklin Skarning), has found herself at a dead end. It's possible that the two could repair their broken relationship, but she doesn't seem to have the patience and he certainly doesn't have the strength to be honest. 

We also meet a number of other men who have lost their way or are searching for a new answer. There is Mr. Prince (Craig Johnson), Belle's widowed father who thinks Cleo may be the companion he needs for the rest of his life. The office is shared with Cooper (David Coral), a dentist so desperate amid the Great Depression that he eventually starts to sell his blood to cover the rent. 

This isn't a fast-paced script, and director Ellen Fenster smartly doesn't push the pace. This is a show that lives in the silences and expressions that haunt the characters as they live through the summer.

While the performances (the company also includes Jason Rojas and Edwin Strout) are strong throughout, it is the work by Hansen and Froiland that makes the show go. Hansen slowly brings all of his character's insecurities and sense of loss and aimlessness to the surface as the play continues, eventually giving us a portrait of a broken man. Froiland brings a lot of complexity to a character that could be just a sketch, and eventually makes her the show's heroine, or least the one person who seems to have a future.


Rocket to the Moon
Through June 1
New Century Theatre
615 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.455.9501 or visit online.
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