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Outer space and inner space, the nebula and the womb: As playwright Don Nguyen observes, cosmic exploration shares some salient features with quests for human conception. (Like: No matter how much data you have, each voyage is a total unknown.) The analogy isn’t new, but Nguyen explores it with an endearing sincerity in Hello, From the Children of Planet Earth, a sitcom-y space drama about family-making and personal risk, directed by Jade King Carroll for the Playwrights Realm. Clunky but sweet, Nguyen’s piece is an invitation to value impossible odysseys, no matter where they might end.
Hello, From… shuttles between two long-term partnerships: Betsy (Kaaron Briscoe) and Shoshana (Dana Berger) are a couple who long to be parents, while William (Jeffrey Omura) and Freddy (Jon Hoche) are bro-colleagues at NASA charged with tracking the legendary space probe Voyager I. William and Betsy were high-school BFFs, but haven’t spoken in seventeen years — until the women, exhausted from a series of miscarriages and expensive IVF treatments, contact him out of the blue as a potential sperm donor. William is flattered and terrified. He’s been single and career-focused for decades, and Voyager, roaming outer space since 1977, is the closest he’s got to a dependent. He considers the possibility (then excitedly acquiesces) over the course of several awkward get-togethers, including one that features Freddy as a loud, jokey wingman; too many margaritas; and some confusion over whether calamari is made from octopus or squid.
Meanwhile, in a series of fantastical interludes, a figure called the Farthest Explorer (Olivia Oguma), clad in shimmering robes and bedecked in LED lights — a human embodiment of the Voyager — reports on her journey to the outer reaches of interstellar space. Strapped to her chest is Carl Sagan’s famous Golden Record: a collection of earthly sounds, music, and multilingual greetings, sent into the cosmos in hopes of fostering communications with extraterrestrial beings.
Hello, From… is an odd mixture of thudding cliché and engaging ode to personal growth. On the one hand, it features shocking lesbian stereotypes (Shoshana wears wife-beaters, is “tough,” and loves the Indigo Girls) and hammers both exposition and metaphor into the ground (“Vaginas are a lot like space,” declares the Farthest Explorer during her first appearance). At the same time, it’s hard not to root for Nguyen’s celebration of unconventional family — which, here, extends from Betsy, Shoshana, and their potential child to include a sperm donor and his close friend.
The play’s central comparison is between a fetus and a space probe, and its central drama follows the agonizing wait for communications from both: news about the pregnancy’s health, news about the Voyager’s arrival in the interstellar zone. But this somewhat obvious analogy is far less compelling than the more earthbound parallel between the couple and the dude-buddies, whose intimacy encompasses afternoon “poop breaks,” honest talks about feelings, and requests for piggyback rides. Nguyen’s play won’t launch you on a journey to wildly unknown terrain, but he’ll lead you onto familiar ground with compassionate humor.