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Earth to ‘Earth’



The awkwardly titled “Jerome Bixby’s The Man from Earth” include characters who are an anthropologist, an archeologist, a biologist and a “Christian literalist,” so you’d expect the play to be a roiling battle of cosmological and ontological wit.

You’d be wrong. Bixby wrote short stories and screenplays, mostly science fiction, including episodes of “Star Trek” and “The Twilight Zone.” Director Richard Schenkman’s stage adaptation of Bixby’s “Man from Earth” screenplay aspires to be Serling-esque, thinkingman’s sci-fi — no flying saucers, robots or death rays here — but comes off at about the literary level of one of the lesser “Twilight Zone” teleplays.

Directed by Ghostlight Theatre Club actress Cristela Carrizales, “Man from Earth” is set in an unnamed, American college town. Some academics have gathered for a going-away party honoring their colleague, John Oldman (Christopher Rodgers), who’s suddenly leaving town and his tenured professorship — a sure sign that something strange, if not downright scandalous, is afoot.

It doesn’t take long for the other profs to wear down John for an explanation. He claims to be a Cro- Magnon, aka a caveman, from 140 centuries ago. The “first few thousand years were cold,” he says, later claiming to have studied with the Buddha.

For reasons even he’s not sure of, John never ages. About every 10 years, he has to move to a new place so his extraordinary, if enviable, abnormality doesn’t become known to others and expose him as some sort of supernatural being. Pretty soon, one begins to think the play’s first act is lasting 140 years, but no, it’s about 45 minutes.

Only in certain subgenres of science fiction is the character of John taken seriously by the others around him. In fact, he’s taken seriously to a ridiculous extreme. When he changes his story later in the play, his colleagues’ outrage doesn’t ring true. After the plot has reached a semi-resolution, one of the scientists says, “I’ve gotta watch ‘Star Trek’ for a dose of reality.” That should tell you a lot.

Rob May, Mike Waugh and Todd Clark play the professors, and Chris Crane is a pipe-smoking physician/ professor who, for some reason, is a revered figure among the faculty. Maybe it’s because he’s older than everyone else.

Sue Ellen Reiman plays a faculty wife who’s the Christian literalist. She has had a distinguished career in Oklahoma City theater, and in this play, she finally gets to utter the term “Vatican flapdoodle.”

The ending, which will not be revealed here, has a risible lapse in logic that turns out to be one of the most entertaining things about the play. Let’s just say this: Why would Jesus Christ need to call 911?

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