Murder, Russians, monkey, chaos

Officer Cosomono played by Justin Mancini (left)  asserts authority as the Bahktin family cowers behind Major Tom (Noah Franc). (Abby Hocking  / Photo Assistant)
Officer Cosomono played by Justin Mancini (left) asserts authority as the Bahktin family cowers behind Major Tom (Noah Franc). (Abby Hocking / Photo Assistant)

David Bowie, aliens and a video cameo of a mock President Obama. The only word to describe All College Theatre’s (ACT) edition of this year’s murder mystery is “ridiculous.”

“2009: A Space Oddity-Murder at Zero Gravity or How I Learned How to Stop Worrying and Love the Alien” continued the tradition of catered playful actor-audience interaction on its opening night Friday Nov. 13.

Brower Student Center was transformed into the Excelsior, a Russian Space Station thought to be abandoned, but secretly inhabited by a U.S. soldier, an eccentric Russian family, an alien and a monkey. In the confusion of the encounter with the inhabitants, the jean-obsessed Jean Genie is murdered and a full cast of peculiar characters claim responsibility, turning the space station into a playground for murder, infidelity, David Bowie references and possible incest.

The members of the Bahktin family, the only original survivors of the space station, were the most entertaining characters of the night. Maddie Patrick, senior sociology and communications studies major, utilized every part of her body to portray the forceful Katarina Bahktin. The combination of her exaggerated waddling and facial expressions, complemented by a strong stereotypical Russian accent, created a hysterically demanding presence.

Equally comical but slightly more gentle, was Mikhail Bahktin, played by sophomore psychology major John Eldis. Equipped with an eye patch and a squat stance, Eldis charmed the audience with his simplistic pride and masterful and, again, stereotypical accent.

Playing their slightly ditzy daughter, Anya, senior English major Heather Duncan completed the picture of dysfunction, with her coy stupidity and expert imitation of naivety.

Noah Franc, sophomore history major, created a particularly unlikeable persona for Major Tom, with an arrogant stride and gruff address of the other characters. His brash attitude toward the Russian family made any sympathy for his character impossible, whether or not intentional. While his success in this respect captured the anticipated rogue soldier attitude, it overshadowed any attempts to appeal to his character such as his randomly inserted monologue and his supposed love for Anya.

Justin Mancini, sophomore English major, also achieved an unpleasant character as Officer Cosomono. Though Mancini initially accomplished drawing suspicion with shifty eyes and an obnoxious wielding of authority, his inconsistent stutter was both distracting and unconvincing. Sophomore art education major Kelsey Long provided a refreshing counter to Cosomono, with a perfected false, sweet tour-guide demeanor, that switched seamlessly to a controlling grammar Nazi.

Liz So, self-designed international study major, played both Jean Genie and Chimp 527, the murdered and the murderer. Her portrayal of the jeans fiend and chimp was successful through her squeaky voice and hyperactive bouncing around Brower food court, highlighting both her boundless energy and the play’s creative utilization of space.

Though the Bowie references were at times excessive, especially an unwarrantedly long cast-wide break out into a revised “Ashes to Ashes,” “2009: A Space Oddity” was the product of evident tremendous effort, that produced a show that was both infectiously hilarious at times and consistently entertaining. The diversity of characters — from a twitching conspiracy theorist, a doctor with a vendetta against “X-Files,” to a “bitch with a gun” — provided infinite quirks that created the brilliant chaotic atmosphere of the play.

According to director Mark Smith, junior communications studies major, rehearsals for the play began three weeks prior to opening night. “2009: A Space Oddity” is the brainchild of Smith, along with Steve Avigliano, junior English major and Ray Fallon, senior English major. When asked the source of their inspiration, the three self-proclaimed Bowie fans referenced a comment Fallon had previously made.

“The murder mystery is typically written by idiots,” he said. “And we’re all idiots, and so we’re perfectly capable of writing it.”