The second part in the Sci-Fi Honeycomb Trilogy, Blast Radius begins 12 years after the first installment, Advance Man, and 12 years after the end of the world as humanity knew it. Since Bill Cook built and triggered 13 larval honeycombs, or alien nests (to his family’s horror, and with the aid of his fellow astronauts), the earth has been overrun by insect-like hive-mind alien life forms. The aliens now essentially control the human race, assigning farming detail, separating families, destroying human culture and technology, and instituting their practice of communal living, including the conception and raising of children.
Blast Radius, happily, gives us four of the pivotal characters from Advance Man. Since the traumatic events that unleashed this alien government, Abbie and Ronnie, children of Bill Cook, have become at bitter odds with one another. Abbie has drunk the honeycomb kool-aide. He admires the selflessness and productivity a group consciousness fosters, and has made himself disposable to the alien race. Ronnie, however, is repulsed by the lack of individuality, and the brutal and methodic manner in which human rights are stripped away. Bill’s wife, Amelia, is another overlapping character; we see her at a very progressed stage of disease, with no hope for treatment, as all medical technology has been destroyed. The final repeat character is Conor, one of the original astronauts, now turned alien. Because of a telepathic link accident, harbored in Conor’s body is the first ambassador for the alien race who is now forever cut off from the hive-mind.
Conor (Jason Howard) and Abbie (David Rosenblatt) have developed a romantic and sexual relationship over the past twelve years, and both actors are believable and sensual in their interactions as they fall in love with the other’s race and culture. It ultimately becomes an interesting source of conflict, as there is no place for individual love in the honeycomb.
The “bugs,” as the resistance calls the honeycomb creatures, are both disgusted and awed by human gestation. Pregnant and weaning women are lodged separately, in the former Cooke household, and are allowed freedoms and spare time that others are not. Ronnie, ever pregnant, her sick mother, and the midwife, Shirley, are permanent fixtures in the house. Since humans can speak freely here, the resistance is born under this roof.
Blast Radius is a complex and engrossing show, with many characters and intertwining plots. Mysterious explosions are occurring out in the fields, with both the resistance and the aliens trying to figure out the cause. Power is survival in this world, so everyone is grappling for their angle, keeping character interactions aloof, intriguingly cryptic at times, and deadly sincere at others. The audience will find itself scrambling to stay one step ahead of the action. All that is ugly, desperate, hopeful, and fiercely loving in humanity is on display.
Writer Mac Rogers brings us a surprising yet logical progression from the first installment, while also achieving a fully satisfying story if the audience didn’t have the opportunity to catch the first play. For the most part the play is well acted, and the few weak performances are offset by the suspenseful dialogue and plot twists. A couple of potentially melodramatic moments may be distracting, but are ultimately forgivable when the high prices for the characters’ actions in this play are taken into account. Becky Byers as Ronnie is compelling and committed, and Nancy Sirianni as Shirley, mid-wife and resistance leader, is a stand-out. Even the actors’ moments of comic relief fit into the story well, and let the audience release some of the building tension. Not too much, though.
Audience members who enjoy Blast Radius will be sure to be on the lookout for dates for the upcoming third and final play, Sovereign.
Blast Radius; Gideon Productions; The Secret Theatre; 44-02 23rd Street; Long Island City; www.secrettheatre.com