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The Outer Space Review: Ethan Lipton’s Sci Fi Shaggy Dog Midlife Crisis Musical

At first glance, singing storyteller Ethan Lipton and his three-member band – the creators and entire cast of “The Outer Space” – look like middle-aged men who never outgrew their childhood obsessions with space travel and rock ‘n’ roll. They wear those blue astronaut jumpsuits, and drink out of plastic spaceship sippy cups, and sing and play tunes in front of the walls at Joes Pub newly festooned with stars that glow purple if you shine a black light at them – precisely the decorations you’d expect in the bedroom of a nine-year-old boy.
This is how it seems on second glance, too, as Lipton narrates the funny, pointed, and strange story of the unnamed married couple who decide they’ve had it with Earth; they buy an old jalopy of a rocket ship and live in a space colony that orbits the planet Mercury, where 3,100 people live, work and shop in some 450 vessels, including a “one-dollar ship.”
Half science fiction, half Moth-like shaggy dog tale involving a midlife crisis, half social satire, half a revue of unrelated songs in a mix of genres, “The Outer Space” doesn’t quite add up to a musical. But it does count as an almost unique entertainment – “almost,” because it’s a sequel of sorts to “No Place To Go,” Lipton and company’s 2012 show, also at the Public. In that one, the man’s job was moving to Mars, and he had to decide whether to move along with it or stay in New York. In “The Outer Space,” that same man moves reluctantly to Mercury with his wife, who is the one who needed to get away from Earth.
It would be foolhardy to try to summarize the story in the 90-minute show, not because there isn’t one – although there isn’t one – but because “The Outer Space” makes something of an art form out of off-the-wall and out-of-left-field.

That’s true about the lyrics – for example, in “She Does Well in Space,” Lipton describes the wife as:
“Friend to every varmint on the block
Chickens, broccoli, they all join her flock.”

Or in the song, A to Z:
Like apples and aardvarks
Birthdays and bingo
(etc through the whole alphabet)
it’s hard to know how we could walk and talk more differently.”

That’s true about his analogies too. Lipton says the husband

“….had to concede,
our cost of living keeps going up like a rocket
while our wages putter along like a school bus
and our savings sit there like a turtle until some major catastrophe—
like a trip to the grocery store— drives them back into the toilet.”

It’s true about his descriptions of the other characters in the space colony, such as “Mika, who works in cosmology, and her husband Donald, who is part bicycle.”

Vito Dieterle, on sax

In keeping with this approach, “The Outer Space” is full of non-sequiturs and digressions. But these are funny non-sequiturs and digressions full of a kind of folksy urban social commentary, and they are set to music that is variously folk, down home blues, funk, bluegrass, Latin-flavored jazz, both soft pop and hard rock, and a final lovely ballad that begins:

Have you ever had the dream
of going somewhere beautiful
Somewhere far away and magical
at the end of all that’s natural

In short, “The Outer Space,” helps the audience, just like that space-traveling couple, get away from it all, albeit just for 80 minutes or so. And by “it all,” Lipton explains, he means:
“noise, violence, oppression, the grind,
rudeness, tourism, traffic, trash,
smelly buses, corporate greed, cultural homogenization, economic marginalization, pollution, overcrowded schools, overpriced rents, overhyped pastries, and busker rock” – as well as (I expect a recent update) the “Dark Lord” that “took over the universe.”

The Outer Space
Joe’s Pub at the Public
Book and Lyrics by Ethan Lipton 
Music composed and performed by Ethan Lipton, Vito Dieterle, Eben Levy & Ian Riggs
Directed by Leigh Silverman

Scenic and Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Nicholas Pope
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $40
The Outer Space is scheduled to run through April 9, 2017

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About New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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