Interstellar Elder, produced by Ingrid Hansen and SNAFU, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, could be considered a very tenuous sequel to Hansen’s 2014 Fringe smash, Kitt & Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide to the Near-Post Apocalyptic Future. Kitt & Jane explored the destruction of our natural environment through the lens of two precocious and imaginative children on the verge of adolescence, and I loved its sparkling wit and touching character interaction.
In Interstellar Elder, Kit Peterson is back, but instead of being a small child, she winds up hundreds of years old in the semi-distant future, the only unfrozen passenger on a ship set to repopulate the earth after an actual natural disaster has made it uninhabitable. Despite the thematic connection, this is an incredibly different show, nearly silent and solo. However, Hansen manages to say a surprising amount about the human condition anyway; the incredibly aged Kitt still has that spark.
The disaster is one we might least expect. Several years from now, Canada apparently has a very different Justin as president (three guesses), who attempts to solve world hunger in a very peculiar way: planting large swaths of genetically-modified Swiss chard. Well, it took over everything, and now we’re screwed.
Hansen begins by setting the scene with a robotic guide to the process of cryogenic freezing. Early on, the show establishes its effective sound design, as essentially the only words are spoken through and by a computer, which is a great (if antagonistic) character. In a spot of ingenuity that carries through the play, we are clearly intended to be the frozen masses.
This means that there is a moderate amount of audience interaction; more likely than not, you may be poked by a cryo-dusting brush or an eager hand, or pressed into service in some manner or other. I’m sure some find this intrusive, but it seemed to keep the audience engaged.
The premise is not unlike the plot of the recent film Passengers, except Kitt is woken on purpose to be a cryo-caretaker in space, janitor to the stars. She goes through similar stages: routine, despondency, desperation for the contact of others, mild hysteria, insanity, resolve. We see her go through the motions, aging, playing with household objects, fighting and dancing with poisonous spores. Finally she faces the terror of a performance review, so kind of like any of our lives, except she has to go it alone.
Hansen is determined and specific in her physical work, and gets lots of laughs from the choices she makes. I found that the wordless aspect and her actions sometimes have the unfortunate effect of making her seem brain-damaged or less than a full-fledged character, even before she spends years alone. Well, who knows what the early unfreezing might have done? I’d love to know more about her and understand her as a unique and developed human being, but while it may not be as easy to comprehend her particular thought processes, it’s easy to see how she feels.
At times, Interstellar Elder can feel a little like a slog, especially if you aren’t the biggest fan of physical work (or if you were expecting a lot of monologue). Plot-heavy, this is not, and I think it could easily be tightened. Certain parts are repeated and stretch on. On the other hand, how better to convey the experience of being stranded by yourself for decades? For a piece about being alone, it’s anything but frozen, featuring a surprisingly rousing and unifying ending that contains one of the best Fringe exits I’ve seen.
- Interstellar Elder plays at The Theatre Centre’s Franco Boni Theatre. (1115 Queen St. W.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- This venue is accessible.
- Friday July 7th, 05:45 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 03:30 pm
- Monday July 10th, 08:45 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 02:45 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 11:00 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 03:30 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 07:00 pm
Photo of Ingrid Hansen by Laura Dittmann