Wednesday , February 21 2024
Beset by static, power outages, and flaky equipment, a Soviet radio show rattles on as the world outside falls apart.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War’ by The Mad Ones

I couldn’t have been much more pleased with my first sojourn to the New Ohio Theatre in its fresh space in the far West Village. Comfortable seats fill a theater that’s spacious and clean yet retains a bit of the downtown funkiness that made the old Ohio so unique. RobotWars1Samuel & Alasdair, by a new company called The Mad Ones, has an old-time radio-station setting and back-to-the-future weirdness that make it a perfect occupant.

Written by cast members Marc Bovino and Joe Curnutte from a conception by them and director Lila Neugebauer, Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War is a clever and funny alt-history/sci-fi tale in which an extraterrestrial invasion has half a century ago nuked North America to smithereens. Though the rest of the world managed to fight off the invasion, the surviving Soviet Union (it’s now the early 21st century) is such a shambles that its radio hosts are reduced to telling nostalgic tales of bygone days in Middle America.

Complete with classic country-and-western songs sung by the cast and accompanied on stage by the talented guitarist Michael Dalto (playing the mostly non-speaking but deliciously named Alexei “Tumbleweed” Petrovya), this American story of two brothers and the girl they both love forms just one layer of a slow-moving yet dense narrative in which we also get to know the radio performers themselves, an extremely funny trio.

The Host (Mr. Curnutte) shifts effortlessly among the personae of his natural Russian self, the older American brother, and a slick film-noir detective. Co-host Dr. Mischa Romanav (sic?), played by Mr. Bovino, jerks tears and laughter in equal measure. The two bounce brilliantly off the attractive but curdled Anastasia, played with pinpoint effectiveness by the excellent Stephanie Wright Thompson.

Beset by static, power outages, and flaky equipment, the radio show rattles on as the world outside seems to be falling apart, though the nature of the crisis isn’t entirely clear. A blackout occasions a revealing story from Anastasia (as herself). A call-in segment is subverted by the sad fact of no one calling in. (Is anyone listening?) An outgoing call taps into a telephonic shriek suggesting a Terminator-style dystopian nightmare outside.

The show wouldn’t be half as effective without Stowe Nelson’s harrowing sound design and Laura Jellinek’s knockabout set, but it is the pitch-perfect cast under Ms. Neugebauer’s imaginative yet economical direction that makes of this multilayered fable a thoroughly rewarding theatrical experience.

Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War runs through Jan. 25 at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher St. in NYC.

Photo by Ian Saville

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

Check Also

Helen. featuring Lanxing Fu, Grace Bernardo, and Melissa Coleman-Reed (photo by Maria Baranova)

Theater Review: ‘Helen.’ by Caitlin George – Getting Inside Helen of Troy

In this compelling new comedy Helen of Troy is not a victim, a pawn, or a plot device, but an icon of feminist fortitude.