Spotlight: A Princess of Mars


John Carter has a nasty historical hangover: a pile of useless Confederate currency and a history as a hero on the wrong side of the Civil War. So it is that the leading man of A Princess of Mars goes west in search of fortune. What he chances on instead is an involuntary trip to the Red Planet and an outlandish adventure. This Hardcover Theater adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's novel is a game, frequently silly, appealingly angst-free sci-fi adventure with an imaginative low-budget staging. Director and adapter Steve Schroer tackles the challenges of presenting an intergalactic space battle with a series of small-scale innovations. Actors portray the show's giant, multi-armed aliens by holding green Martian heads at the end of long poles while they snarl and shout gibberish. Two actors and a mask portray a huge monster dog. And a high-speed aircraft chase is rendered in frenetic miniature. The entire enterprise is just this side of barmy, but it's relentlessly good-natured while embracing the mile-a-minute fun of pulp sci-fi. Small touches, such as a plain but versatile desert set and dramatic incidental music composed by Hiram Titus help keep this train from careering off the tracks. The romance between Carter (Jami Rassmussen) and Dejah Thoris (Amber Swenson) isn't quite convincing. (Rassmussen, who sports a swaggering Southern twang, is suitably goggle-eyed, however, when he falls into a Martian ambush.) On opening night, the show evoked what seemed like its share of inadvertent laughs amid the intended stabs at humor. Resisting the call of camp could be an epic battle for the cast here. Hopefully the production will be able to keep a straight face in subsequent performances. After all, bloodthirsty extraterrestrials have their serious side to be considered.