October 31, 2003





Lost connections--and nuances


The white noise of a broadcast breakdown can be unnerving or soothing by turns. It is sometimes both at once in David Greig's 1999 play "The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union," in which every character is atomized and communication-impaired, from a pair of superannuated Russian spacemen (Peter Vance, Aaron Lyons) stranded in forgotten orbit to a mismatched middle-aged Scottish couple, Vivienne (Jennifer Pennington) and Keith (Dietrich Smith).


In the first of a series of fateful associations with which Greig tenuously binds together the play's tragically transient world of airport lounges, hotels, strip clubs and suburban flats, Keith is having a joyless affair with the displaced daughter (Anna Khaja) of one of the cosmonauts, and Vivienne later befriends a French scientist (Benjamin Burdick) obsessed with contacting an unidentified orbiting object. Guess who's in it?


Audiences will either find Greig's daisy chain of thematic motifs precious, as if he's somehow cheating at poetic significance, or stunningly perceptive, as characters with so much more in common than they know persistently, heartbreakingly fail to connect.


Open Fist's intermittently brilliant but half-baked new production fogs too many of these nuances. Director Stefan Novinski has ignored Greig's directive to double-cast key roles--a crucial element, it would seem, of the playwright's teasing parallel-realities conceit.


And apart from the cosmonaut's claustrophobic capsule (set by Eric Hugunin) and a simple starlight effect (lighting by Dan Reed), the design is perfunctory; we have only the play's uniformly strong performances--particularly Pennington's circumspect Vivienne and Bjorn Johnson as a chilly-turned-needy diplomat--to create the play's world. This is enough for us to connect with Greig's unique voice, but there's heavy static on the line.

Rob Kendt


"The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union," Open Fist Theatre Company, 1625 N. La Brea Ave. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 22. $15 (Fri.-Sat.); Sundays, pay what you can. (323) 882-6912. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.