“It’s the old story,” says Ethan Lipton as he launches into The Outer Space. “A couple buys a spaceship.” He sustains this tone of incongruously folksy sci-fi for the next 75 minutes of his solo musical, in which a woman and a man ditch the surly bonds of Earth for “a charming Victorian craft” in a colony over Mercury’s scenic Caloris Basin. The wife is happy among the wide-open spaces, constant chores and friendly neighbors, but the husband suffers from a malady called Space Sadness. (“He tries to steel himself by making lists—‘Nine Ways Gratitude Has Failed Me’…‘Six Lessons I Seem Incapable of Learning’”).
Dressed in a blue jumpsuit, Lipton delivers this tale with unassuming charm. He is backed on the cozy Joe's Pub stage by three top-notch musicians—Eben Levy on guitar, Ian Riggs on bass, Vito Dieterle on sax and keyboard—who collaborated with him on the score: more than a dozen songs, some very brief, many in a comfy country & western idiom (with nods to other styles, including a sample of the Buena Vista Social Club). But although it’s often clever, The Outer Space gets trapped in too strict an orbit around its central joke: interplanetary travel as a metaphor for leaving the big city and moving to the country. By the time Lipton got to the pleasures of a Mercury Public Radio pledge drive, I found myself spacing out a bit.
Joe's Pub at the Public Theater (Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Ethan Lipton. Music by Lipton, Vito Dieterle, Eben Levy and Ian Riggs. Directed by Leigh Silverman. With Lipton. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission. Through April 9. Click here for tickets.