Evan Kokkila-Schumacher Explores Interstellar Ideas
by Hamilton Nguyen
Surprising and expansive, “Sojourn” explores the challenges of deep space research. As humanity’s most elusive and difficult frontier, space exploration brings heavy costs and emotional burdens. Two astronauts embark on a one-way trip for humanity. Their boldness and vulnerability leave us in awe.
The Head of NASA, profit-driven Kaitlyn Conner-Xu (calculating Cynthia Lagodzinski) wants to pull the plug, killing all aboard. Conner-Xu’s ruthlessness threatens the entire mission.
A futuristic space ship dominates the front stage. Touch screen glass and green plants decorate white interior walls. The crew communicates with Houston from an egg-shaped chair at a plastic table. On the left side, Houston command central works under dazzling neon lights. The cool set supports our modern belief in technology and science.
Sound Designer Charlie Hoyt concocts deep, eerie and electronic harmonies. Video Designers Caroline Clark and John Beamer mesmerize us with bright, animated displays of celestial bodies. Their combined special effects repeatedly give me chills and goose bumps.
Many years ago, our two astronauts left the Earth to look for another habitable planet. The anxious ship commander Nick Wentz (gripping Drew Benjamin Jones) fears failure. His crewmate, tender Dr. Deanna Lillis (endearing Laura Domingo) comforts him.
Aboard the confining two-person space ship, Wentz and Lillis diligently perform their routine tasks. They check the plants, send data to Houston, and deploy satellites. These daily tasks build confidence in their epic journey. Mundane, routine tasks expose the crew’s emotional needs and longing for greatness. With the onset of depression and loneliness, our crew slides into existential anguish.
But the toll of countless days gnaws at Wentz and Lillis’ purpose. Wentz silences his needs until they explode into vicious self-harm. Lillis puts on a cheery face and eventually withdraws from both Wentz and Houston. If two astronauts doubt their purpose, how can we be confident in ours?
Guilt-ridden mission director Garett Martin (sympathetic Richard Holman) and tenacious NASA engineer Marta Lucatero (confident Melissa Jones) exude passion and righteousness. They struggle to keep the mission alive, reminding us of civil rights activists.
Pear Theatre’s brilliant and seductive “Sojourn” uses this one-way space mission to examine the clash between materialism and idealism.
Even when we are filled with feelings of doubt about our purpose, we are comforted with the hope that our sacrifices today can help the next generation. Evan Kokkila-Schumacher’s “Sojourn” rewards and captivates us.
“Sojourn” by Evan Kokkila-Schumacher, directed by Caroline Clark, by Pear Theatre, in Mountain View, California, through Sunday, April 7, 2019. Info: thepear.org
Cast: Drew Benjamin Jones, Laura Domingo, Melissa Jones, Richard Holman, and Cynthia Lagodzinski.