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Center Stage

Nostalgic and intergalactic

5/7/2014

Des Moines Performing Arts is showing “The Intergalactic Menace” at Temple Theater through May 11.

Des Moines Performing Arts is showing “The Intergalactic Menace” at Temple Theater through May 11.

“The Intergalactic Nemesis” may be sci-fi fantasy, full of technobabble, but the real fun in it is watching people at play. In particular, Christopher Lee Gibson, who is one of three actors in this “live-action graphic novel,” takes on no fewer than nine characters from the wicked hypnotist Mysterion to the helpful robot Elbee-Dee-Oh. He never moves from behind his mic — a classic, heavy and rectangular device — nor does he change out of his suit, a roomy two-button from 1951. Yet to see him scowl or gape, to hear his robotic monotone or his diabolical laugh — “Ze universe iz mine!” — you’d swear there’s something to this alien-takeover business after all. Gibson keeps his head shaved, too, which enhances both his glowering villainy and noble high-mindedness.

The other two actors, good for seven characters apiece, also cultivate a look from the era of radio drama. The true vintage glamour, however, isn’t the gown hanging off Danu Uribe’s shoulders. Rather it’s the array of sound-effects technology, front and center. At one end, there’s a sandpaper wheel used early on to create a blizzard, and at the other is a big green rubber ball used at a fun climax point.

Fun, indeed: Cami Alys, the “Foley artist” who handles the noisemakers, matters as much to the whacky pleasure of the show as the three actors and their two dozen voices. It’s Alys who got the first big laughs, opening night, with a bit filched from Mel Brooks. Each time someone spoke the words “Castle Kradmoor,” she wrenched a big piece of heavy plastic, setting off peals of thunder. “Young Frankenstein” came to mind. But the effect worked better live when you saw the smirk of satisfaction across the face of the woman who brought it off.

Besides that, “Nemesis” features Kenneth Redding on keyboards, delivering thrilling surges and spooky diminuendos. Meanwhile, above the central FX array, play color graphics (manipulated by a woman at a computer, also onstage). These show the story in progress, Marvel Comics style.

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An appropriate style, certainly: These sludge monsters, see, are going to conquer the galaxy unless this guy from the future, see, can disrupt the Zygonian Hive. Both this “plot” and its presentation were dreamed up by Jason Neulander, of Austin, Texas, and he’s caught the zeitgeist. Conan O’Brien featured the show, then National Public Radio, and Des Moines is part of the first national tour. Still, the graphics in the background are the weak link: Biff! Pow! — all very familiar. It’s far more fun to watch the live act, for instance, Gibson as Lord of Kradmoor (crash!). His face sepulchral, he intones: “My servants have prepared a special… Blood Pie….”

Overheard in the Lobby: Winterset Stage, down in covered-bridge country, has a new “Main Stage” program. CV              

John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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