Skin Horse Theater's original production Nocturnes (I-III), about human fascination with the cosmos, took a while to get off the ground, but much of the journey was exciting, even if parts drifted too long in deep space. It's the young company's best original work to date.
A pre-launch vignette took nearly 15 minutes to show a man miss a train, overact his frustration and finally stare at the sky. Played mostly for simple laughs, it could have been done in far less time to better effect.
The substantive work started with "Mission Control," a wonderfully eclectic assortment of readings beginning with a transcript — translated from Russian via Google Translate, one actor said — of the beginning of the first manned space journey. Lined up at a long panel in front of microphones, the cast played various engineers, mission leaders and the astronaut as they prepared for launch. On the social science front, there was Gil Scott-Heron's "Whitey on the Moon." Two particularly strong pieces were Veronica Hunsinger-Loe dramatizing an intercepted transmission of a distressed Soviet cosmonaut in the final stages of a flight that failed, and Evan Spigelman's inspired delivery of a Patti Smith song as a nonmusical monologue. The unpredictable mix reached joyous heights when the group sang David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Elton John's "Rocket Man," but Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" proved one song too many. The segment was more chaotic collage than curated presentation (it was difficult to discern any greater point), but that part of Nocturnes was entertaining and had great energy.
The next part, "Kosmos," started well as Hunsinger-Loe occupied a space station and mimicked weightlessness by reclining on a barely visible swiveling black stool on a dark set. It was cleverly staged as items seemed to float free of gravity, but as the piece went on, the effect lost its freshness and started to feel campy before it ground to a slog as an overworked gimmick. Hunsinger-Loe should have put on her red space suit much sooner and progressed to the next phase, where the audience was treated to a peek at the vastness of the universe. The special effects were again creatively rendered, but there was no drama to sustain the the very lengthy display.
The collection of readings and the illusion of weightlessness were witty and entertaining, but in repeated instances, extended scenes slowed the show to a crawl. Still, it's a big step forward for the young company's original work.