Something strange is going on in “Brilliant Adventures,” the sci-fi thriller opening Dec. 28 at Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea. A grown man wanders around on a leash like a dog, shady business deals are discussed in a dingy apartment, and a large cardboard box is actually a working time machine.
Playwright Alistair McDowall, at 29, has already been provoking British audiences with his mysterious, dystopian dramas. But even though “Brilliant Adventures” dabbles in science fiction, Danielle Fauteux Jacques, Apollinaire’s artistic director, says the play is fundamentally about close family relationships.
“We read a lot of scripts out loud when we’re deciding what to produce each season,” she says. “This one just jumped off the page. Each character in this story is trying to outrun disaster.”
At first glance, the plot line of “Brilliant Adventures” seems fairly straightforward: In a rundown city in northern England, two brothers and their best friend fight against a system, and sometimes each other, in an effort to get ahead in a world that offers few options. One brother, Rob, is a low-level drug dealer who keeps the man on the leash, while his younger brother Luke is a brilliant inventor who struggles to communicate because of a paralyzing stutter. When Rob teams up with a high-rolling bully from London for a “business deal,” loyalties are frayed and the dramatic outcome becomes harder to predict.
Then there’s that time machine.
“I love the way the time machine sits in the middle of the action, and everyone just accepts that they can’t use it because Luke doesn’t want them to,” says Michael Underhill, who plays Rob. “It would be easy to go down the whole wormhole of time travel, but instead they all just accept that it’s there and don’t dwell on it.”
Even an amazing invention like a time machine can’t seem to release this group from their dead-end lives. Luke is reluctant to use it, and when the outsider from London offers to buy it, suddenly the stakes become so much higher.
“What struck me right away about this play is the juxtaposition of this grand title, ‘Brilliant Adventures,’ against this very small world in which these characters operate,” says Sam Terry, who plays Luke. “But what really draws you in is that these characters are in an impossible situation that they’re each trying to get out of in their own way.”
Underhill says the play is filled with “subtleties, things that aren’t said, and an awful lot of action, considering everything takes place in this one room.”
The dialogue, in fact, models Harold Pinter’s spare, unpredictable approach to character development, full of pauses and heavy with subtext.
“On the page it looks very technical,” says Terry, “and when you add Luke’s stutter, it’s seems impossible, but I can really feel this character’s frustration. Unlike his brother, he’s thinking ahead. He knows what he wants to say, but he just can’t get it out. So much of what is communicated between these brothers, and their lifelong friend, is unspoken.”
Although the brothers are rough on each other, Terry says their affection is reflected in their actions, if not in their words.
“Everything they do is about surviving another day,” says Fauteux Jacques. “Once the time machine is activated, it adds another layer of mystery to the existing story, rather than taking us in a different direction. Neither the audience, nor the characters, seem to know what’s going to happen next.”
“Brilliant Adventures” is engaging, she says, “because all of the characters are juggling conflicting needs. All of them feel trapped, but each one has a different idea about what he is willing to sacrifice for a better future.”
Crouse returning to Gloucester
The Gloucester Stage Company has announced its 38th season featuring six plays that will run from May 19 through Oct. 28. The season includes the New England premiere of Israel Horovitz’s “Out of the Mouths of Babes” (Aug. 11-Sept. 2), starring Paula Plum with Horovitz directing; the return of Oscar-nominated actress Lindsay Crouse in the New England premiere of “The Effect” (June 16-July 8), with film and TV director Sam Weisman at the helm; a world premiere from Massachusetts native Jim Frangione, called “Flight of the Monarch” (Sept. 8-30), starring Nancy E. Carroll; Jon Kolvenbach’s “Bank Job” (May 19-June 10), directed by Gloucester Stage artistic director Robert Walsh; “The Rainmaker” (July 14-Aug. 5), by N. Richard Nash; and Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Oct. 6-28).
Tickets are $32-$42. For subscription packages and more information: 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.com.
Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company, at Chelsea Theater Works, Chelsea, Dec. 28-Jan. 21.
Tickets: $15-$25, 617-887-2336,firstname.lastname@example.org.