Alley Theater Opens ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’

L to R: actors John Aurelius, Kent Carney, Scott Goodman and Alan Canon

The Earth is about to explode and your friends at The Alley Theater are here to calmly talk you through it in the best British accents they can muster. Don’t Panic. Louisville’s favorite progressive theater debuted its latest production last Thursday, a live adaptation of the beloved Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. No, unlike some of The Alley’s other productions (i.e. Point Break Live!) there is no danger of getting wet, but if you count yourself amongst the millions of Hitchhiker fans out there then you already know that you will still be needing a towel.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Part 1) is a live adaptation of the original radio plays that debuted on BBC Radio in 1978. As such, rather than costumed as actual characters from Hitchhiker stories, the actors appear in the period ’70s outfits of the British radio personalities reading the radio play. The stage has likewise been transformed into the dingy, wood-paneled walls of fictitious British radio station WLOL, complete with radio microphones, a Pink Floyd poster and a large portrait of Mick Jagger. In addition to his role in the radio play proper, actor Alan Canon serves as the DJ of WLOL, announcing news and programming information before the show and during the interludes that separate the four parts of the story. Before continuing, yes, it’s just as outrageously meta as it sounds.

For the uninitiated, Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy follows the adventures of hapless Englishman Arthur Dent (actor Kent Carney) and his best friend Ford Perfect (actor John Aurelius), who is actually an alien from a planet “somewhere in the vicinity of Beetlejuice”. Ford rescues Arthur from Earth just minutes before its unwitting demolition (to make room for a galactic super-highway) and things get even more ‘improbable’ when they end up on a stolen spaceship piloted by Zaphod Beebledrox (actor Scott Goodman) and Trillian (actress Kimberely Taylor-Peterson), a fellow brit who once shrugged off Arthur’s advances at a party. ‘The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ itself is an interactive galactic encyclopedia and excerpts from its entries (as performed by Alan Canon) serve as a kind of narration at certain parts throughout the story.

Alan Canon narrates the 'Hitchhiker's Guide'. Even his face is enjoyably deadpan.

Hitchhiker opens on Earth as Arthur Dent is attempting to convince a demolition crew not to knock over his house and the charm of the production is instantly recognizable. Kent Carney and John Aurelius (Arthur and Ford) frantically shout with a foreman voiced by Tom Dunbar (who tackles a number of parts), struggling to be heard over the absolute racket being made by the rest of the cast, who are producing construction crew sound effects by means of banging blocks together, moving chains around and the like. With only six total ‘radio performers’ on stage the cast is kept frantically busy switching back and forth between different roles and sound effects, but even when they are not ‘performing’ they are still performing as the radio actors themselves. It’s Kimberly Taylor-Peterson who garners top honors for ‘small touches’ in that department, impatiently blowing chewing gum bubbles as she waits for her next set of lines with an antsy twitch.

There are a number of laugh-out-loud moments to be found, mostly due to a great script full of wonderful British witticisms and absurdity, but outside of just delivering their lines the actors show notable success in maintaining a building sense of humor that will keep you at a general snicker throughout the tale. Kent Carey and John Aurelius both do impeccable British accents and with each consecutive “What?” or other exasperated remark it just gets funnier. Moreover, Alan Canon steals the show as both the narrator of the ‘The Guide’ and the spaceship’s depressed robot. The juxtaposition of the Louisville native’s David Attenborough-esque British narration voice with the kitchy scifi-sounding track played behind him is comedic gold. Additionally noteworthy was Scott Goodman’s take on galactic president/space cowboy/three-armed pick-up artist Zaphod Beeblebrox, which was clearly inspired by Sam Rockwell’s delightfully-mad-rockstar rendition from the 2005 film version and in the best way possible.

Sam Rockwell and Scott Goodman. May the best Zaphod win.

It’s entertaining, it’s a riot, it’s a great story, but The Alley Theater’s biggest triumph with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy might just be how incredibly accessible it is. All but the most curmudgeonly of humbugs would fail to sit through this show without at least a grin, and even then, a couple of cold beers from The Alley’s concessions might just do the trick. The production capitalizes on the incredibly high quality of its source material and even on the live-storytelling craze currently brought about by popular programs like PRX’s ‘The Moth Radio Hour‘, and yet still manages to squeeze itself into the confines of ‘theater’. Having already seen success this year with the return of Point Break Live! and last month’s Evil Dead: The Musical, The Alley’s ability to turn out consistently strong new material on a monthly basis is humbling. Already looking forward December’s Alley-original production of The Matrix: Live (A Parody).

Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy (Part 1) continues this month with shows on November 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19 at 7:30 pm. Refer to The Alley Theater’s website for additional information.

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Chris Ritter <<<<<< <<<<<<