Lakewood Theatre opened its 65th season on July 7 with Gore Vidal’s satiric sci-fi comedy, Visit to a Small Planet. A biting satire, the play is light on science and surprisingly prescient on social commentary. Although it was written in the mid-1950s it has lost nothing with the passage of time.
In a Washington, D.C. suburb not far from the Pentagon, a spaceship lands in the Spelding family’s backyard. Out steps a man who looks very much like them, wearing the clothing of a different century. Kreton (Jeremy Southard) has landed on earth, and he is on a mission.
Bored with his own planet, where peace, immortality, and harmony prevail, Kreton has come to study Earth. He is fascinated by war, and Earthlings are so good at it!
The Speldings, and their visitor, the jowly, war-mongering General Tom Powers (Erik James) embrace the stranger. In fact, he is invited by conservative talk show host Roger Spelding (Todd Hermanson) to stay with the family (the better to keep an eye on this strange fellow), to the chagrin of harried housewife Reba Spelding (Julie Elizabeth Knell).
While the Speldings and General Powers try to figure out what to do with Kreton and what it all means, Kreton has his own agenda. Granted, he landed in the wrong century–his goal was the Battle of Manassas during the Civil War–and in this particular place, no wars are raging. However, being around the General and Roger, he quickly learns about the 20th Century’s newest war toys. He decides to take over the planet and create a war of his own. He also takes minor interest in the Spelding daughter, Ellen (Melissa Sondergeld), her boyfriend Conrad (Paul Harestad), and the family’s very disgruntled cat, Rosemary (Dusty), to side-splitting effect.
Gore Vidal was an American literary giant and “public intellectual” not known for play-writing. Rather, he was an essayist and novelist, whose work–much in the way this play does–explored history, militarism, and the nature of corruption in public and private life.
As director of Visit to a Small Planet, Tobias Anderson deftly brings out the best this play has to offer–Kreton’s patter, soliloquies, his prying questions (particularly of Ellen and Conrad’s love life), and his innocently biting observations of American life, while the rest of the cast puff themselves up as his superior. One thinks immediately of Oscar Wilde. One believes one can almost hear Gore Vidal talking.
The play continues through August 13 on the Headlee Mainstage at Lakewood Center for the Arts. The kids will enjoy the silliness and novelty of this quirky visitor and his encounters with Earthlings, while adults also will find deeper and more disturbing meaning to occupy their thoughts