Science fiction is not a genre you encounter very frequently in theater — and particularly not in a venue as small as New Jersey Repertory Company. Yet the Long Branch theater is going where it has rarely, if ever, gone before, with its current world premiere — or should that be universe premiere? — of Jared Michael Delaney’s “Voyager One.”
This is not an elaborate production: There are just a few small, well executed special effects in it. But the main reason it seems well suited to the venue is that Delaney is more interested in human psychology and relationships than in exploring, or depicting, what the future may hold in store for us.
Some of the scenes are set in a 1970s office where co-workers Carl (Joseph Carlson) and Sarah (Daven Ralston) help put together the “Golden Record.” This is something that was really created in the ’70s: A collection of images and sounds that was launched into space, to give any beings who may encounter it, at any point, a sense of what life on Earth is/was about. The ’70s scenes alternate with others, set in the distant future, where Ceygan (also played by Carlson) interrogates a non-human (also played by Ralston) who is able to assume human properties in order to be able to communicate.
A third actor, Mare Akana, contributes to the scenes that are set in the future, though she remains offstage, providing the voice for an artificial-intelligence character who interacts with Ceygan and the mysterious entity played by Ralston.
Not surprisingly, a link between the 1970s storyline and the future storyline eventually becomes clear
One of the best things about this production is the opportunity it offers to watch Ralston shift back and forth between her human character and the non-human one. It’s an impressive feat of acting. Sarah has some intensely emotional scenes, but moments later, Ralston is projecting robotic serenity as the mystery woman.
Carl and Ceygan, meanwhile, are not as easily distinguishable. Perhaps that’s part of the point, since “Voyager One,” like the Golden Record itself, ultimately ponders what the eternal nature of humanity is – i.e., what doesn’t change.
The amount that you enjoy “Voyager One” will probably be determined by your interest in such ruminations, and in science fiction in general. I don’t think Delaney’s story is really compelling enough, in its own right, to have much of an appeal beyond those parameters.
And yes, in case you were wondering … Ceygan is pronounced like “Sagan.” It’s a reference to Carl Sagan, who chaired the committee that selected the contents of the Golden Record in the ’70s. That’s the same reason, presumably, why the Carl character has that name (though he is not meant to actually represent Sagan).
“Voyager One” will be at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through July 21; visit njrep.org.
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