How to Live on Earth: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Colt Coeur, it must be said, was on a hell of a streak. In the last five years, Adrienne Campbell-Holt's young company has produced a number of exquisite pieces, peaking with last year's astonishing Dry Land. In every Colt Coeur show, you come to expect three components: a realistic script with pitch-perfect dialogue, a talented young cast doing naturalistic work and a gorgeous set. What happened? The self-assurance of those earlier shows has fallen precipitously for How to Live on Earth, MJ Kaufman's mawkish tale of people auditioning for a mission to Mars.
Kaufman is actually, of course, using the one-way-ticket-into-space setup to address questions of loneliness and isolation: In their earthbound lives, the candidates are all somehow out of joint. Lost soul Aggie (Molly Carden) can't get her father to say he'd miss her; Eleanor (Amelia Workman) is a librarian who hates people, yet is disoriented by a new romance; Omar (Genesis Oliver) won't address why he's so willing to leave his longtime lover behind. Only super doctor Bill (Charles Socarides) seems remotely qualified—in a comic moment, the humblebragging Bill submits his over-the-top audition video. “I've worked with Medecins sans—sorry,” he corrects himself: “Doctors Without Borders.”
There are other flashes of tartness, but they don't lighten what becomes a very heavy load. Characters remain as thinly drawn and unbelievable as they were at the outset, some strong actors are miscast (Workman glows like a lamp, yet she's supposed to be a painful introvert) and everywhere the play's mechanics clank with obvious exposition and unearned revelations. There are a few things to see here, like Lynne Lipton's sweet portrait of a mom completely befuddled by Skype, but in general, the thing's demoralizing. It stands in such marked contrast to the company's other work that I'd recommend skipping this one, throwing salt over your shoulder and hoping that this talented bunch finds its luck again next year.—Helen Shaw
HERE Arts Center (Off-Off Broadway). By MJ Kaufman. Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.