“Boy Sees Flying Saucer” is a story you know as that old standard, the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Except with aliens and a soundtrack of jolly 1960s pop hits.
The play, premiering at Netcong’s The Growing Stage, is fun if predictable. The story centers on Bobby Radcliff (Ryan Hagan), who misplaces his bike and, inspired by his buddy’s devotion to comic book stories about alien life, tells his sister that it was stolen by a flying saucer.
In no time flat, his parents, the police and the press hear this story and thrill to it, enchanted by the idea of a visitor from the stars.
The story kind of writes itself from there, which is problematic. You can see the cast laboriously pumping energy and enthusiasm into the performance, and Danny Campos’ direction keeps things in constant motion. But particularly in the first act, you see each development coming from light-years away.
As usual, Growing Stage’s go-to set designer Perry Arthur Kroeger does his clever magic, conjuring a whole world from a series of gorgeously painted panels. This time, he creates a time-capsule mid-century kitchen, an outdoor set with mysteriously rectangular trees — and a giant comic book about UFOs. This company’s shows are always a pleasure to look at.
The whole production is amiable enough, and at a recent show, between the music and the lush visuals, pint-sized audience members seemed to find the story engrossing.
The show gets a remarkable jolt of energy, however, when Davis Cameron Lemley walks — or rather, slithers — onto the stage as the Mystery Man.
He doesn’t even speak in his first several scenes; he just slinks and tiptoes and silly-walks across the stage with such joy and verve that he got a laugh from the kids every time he appeared. I’ve seen Lemley in three shows at the Growing Stage now, and he’s always the most engaging presence on this stage. He’s a remarkable performer, and here, he’s been given a part that uniquely suits his gift for physical comedy.
The show’s second act improves greatly largely because there’s so much more Lemley in it; he’s in most scenes, as a character who’s got a very practical desire to know if little Bobby really did see a spaceship.
He also briefly swerves into less comic territory. In the second act, Bobby’s parents, Ray (Sean Quigley) and Sylvia (Ginny Bartolone), evolve from a stereotypical grumpy dad and meek housewife into a more intriguing pair. Ray, it turns out, is still processing his own long-ago alien encounter — and Sylvia is much more in charge of the family than she at first seems. The Mystery Man turns out to be the alien Ray met all those years ago, and their reunion is deeply moving and strange, and feels like a scene from an entirely different, much more adult play.
All that said, your 7-year-old “Star Wars” enthusiast will probably love this show, particularly the big special-effects scene at the end. As ever, the Growing Stage is thoughtful in its approach to its smallest audience members, handing out coloring-book programs and offering up its cast to sign autographs and shake hands in character.
This may not be the best production the theater has ever hosted. But you’ll never regret introducing your kid to live performance in this charming theater.
“Boy Sees Flying Saucer” runs through March 25 at The Growing Stage in Netcong; visit growingstage.com.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.
Great job including a major spoiler! Also, kudos on supplanting your role as a mediocre reviewer with a chip on their shoulder for children’s theatre.