As a hugely popular 2007 science fiction film, The Man From Earth has quite a hurdle to mount to be as successful on stage. However with the adaptation of the Jerome Bixby plot by Richard Schenkman and particularly, the direction by Robert Kimber, and in the hands of this fine cast, it has all the hallmarks of a winner.
These hallmarks may not be immediately apparent in the first half, in which the acting seems to outshine the writing, such that one is left hoping, at the interval, that the play is actually going to get somewhere. Don’t worry – it certainly does.
John Oldman (nicely played by Fahad Farooque) is a cheezy name for one who claims to be 14,000 years old: just one of many more subtle allusions to longevity and history, as Dr Oldman’s claims become increasingly outrageous and alarming to some of his academic contemporaries.
Farooque is delightfully inscrutable as his colleagues throw increasingly difficult challenges at his claims, which could have been learned from books – or could they possibly be from his memory? Andrew Horwood as Dan remains philsophically sceptical, Art (Brendan Cooney) becomes actively hostile, and Edith (Lyn Wilson) becomes distressed by these claims, with comic relief from Harry (Lindsay Dunn). Meanwhile Sandy (Alicia Zorkovic) remains faithful, domestically loyal, grounded, and in love. The arrival of Will, an academic psychiatrist excellently portrayed by Brant Eustice, adds both comic relief and tension.
The emotional tension between the colleagues grows in the second half, along with the mystical overlay of the claims being made by Oldman as they probe further. Issues such as love, pain, death, loss, grief, faith and religion are canvassed, along with salient references to some current human and international concerns, as his colleagues – and the audience – struggle to make sense of his claims. Is he just a clever, well-read academic espousing syncretism – some co-existence between otherwise divergent cultures and world views, or is he in fact some kind of dissociative psychotic nut case? Because his claims are so outlandish… surely… aren’t they?
A most climactic claim is reached, but that is not the end. The final twist is masterful, and cleverly portrayed.
The whole is well supported by Richard Parkhill’s lighting, Robert Kimber’s set and Michael Eustice’s sound design. Red Phoenix Theatre once again has shown both the value of its commitment to producing only Adelaide premieres, and its ability to do so very well.
Red Phoenix Theatre presents
The Man From Earth
by Jerome Bixby | adapted by Richerd Schenkman
Director Robert Kimber
Venue: Holden Street Theatres | The Studio, 34 Holden Street, Hindmarsh SA
Dates: 16 – 25 August 2018
Tickets: $25 – $19
Bookings: 08 8225 8888 | holdenstreettheatres.com