Gale Harold Reminds of a Lanky Jimmy Stewart- A Review of TYPF Plays
I noticed that no one has actually discussed the play, so I thought I’d make an attempt. Other attendees, please feel free to correct me if anything went over my jet-lagged head.
In real life, the Russians sent a number of stray female dogs and some other animals into space; many died, most notably Laika, the first animal to orbit Earth in 1957. The next space dog missions involved Belka & Strelka, who lived, Pchyolka and Mushka, whose craft disintegrated upon reentry, and Chernushka and Zvyozdochka, who each flew separate missions with a mannequin nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich so that they wouldn’t die of fright and loneliness like poor Laika. “Like a Dog In Space” posits what might have happened to Ivan when he returns to Earth.
A muse-like woman in white, Innovation, brings Ivan to life. He remembers the planets and stars that he saw when he was in Space with awe and wishes to repeat the experience by becoming a real human cosmonaut. Innovation hooks Ivan up with Mr. Papers, an identity broker, so that Ivan has a fictitious background and documentation that he is a scientist from Siberia. Gale was seated stage right during from the start of the play on a low filing cabinet with his back to the audience facing a Soviet flag, and turned around when Ivan is first brought over to him by Innovation. He holds an old-fashioned pocket watch throughout the play, almost as if he was a Time Lord.
Ivan will not physically age, so every ten years he must return to Mr. Papers for a new identity and the “proof” to back it up. Mr. Papers coaches him through the first identity, repeating the names of Ivan’s nonexistent parents and Siberian hometown (this is the only time Gale speaks Russian or works in an accent besides a few “comrades” and “ dos vedanyas.”) Ivan works alongside and befriends the scientists who created him, but after witnessing historic moments of the decade like Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight with Innovation, Mr. Papers and a picnic basket, moves on to another department in the Soviet space program.
After several decades and different identities working in various departments to avoid recognition, it is the present day and Ivan wishes to go to Star City to train to become a cosmonaut. Innovation’s century-long lifespan is nearly over; she asks Ivan to come with her, but Ivan is not ready to stop. Mr. Papers also asks Ivan how long he plans to continue adapting different identities to fulfill his dream, but Ivan won’t be dissuaded. He rooms with cosmonaut trainees Milena & Gennedy, who become romantically involved with each other. Ivan is eventually recognized in the street by one of the original scientists from the 1960s, who dies with the “human” colleague and friend he knew by his bedside, and by Milena and Gennedy, who have obtained photographs of Ivan over the years for comparison. He confesses that he really is Ivan Ivanovich to the couple and he finally realizes that it was never his fate to visit space again; that is Milena & Gennedy’s destiny. Mr. Papers asks if he wants to become a mannequin again, but Ivan declines. Ivan is curious whether Mr. Papers will also become obsolete, but Papers says that he’ll still have a place in the foreseeable near future. Resigned to making way for new ideas and innovations, Ivan accompanies Innovation into a consuming red light.
Gale reminded me a bit of Jimmy Stewart with his lankiness and the professorial spectacles, and a little of the character who orchestrates John Randolph’s transformation into Rock Hudson in the dystopian second-life fable “Seconds” (1966). It was ambitious, but I wasn’t wholly sure I understood what the playwright was trying to communicate. I fared better with the first two plays. In the first, “Ink and Paint Girls,” three women who hand-paint animation cels in a 1950s cartoon-factory are shaken when one of their colleagues is called to testify before HUAC for creating a humorous soldier character that is deemed unpatriotic.
The second, “Lockdown,” was an engrossing thriller where four high school students – a jock, a popular girl, her quieter BFF and a boy of the type who is often bullied – are in a study hall when their school is invaded by a Columbine-style shooter. Should they fight or hide – or is it a good time to come clean about their feelings and the things that they’ve done in their short lives? It really had the audience on the edges of their seats!
Thanks as always to Stella Dallas for more information and her take on Gale and the plays. 🙂