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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Review: ‘Small Steps’

UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance and Catalyst present a charming comedy about a gay astronaut

From Jan. 21-23, Catalyst: A Theatre Think Tank presented “Small Steps,” a comedy about a lonely gay guy sent on a one-man mission to Mars, through the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance in collaboration with Bike City Theatre Company.

Before the show began (over Zoom conferencing), Mindy Cooper, a professor of Theatre and Dance at UC Davis and the cofounder of Catalyst: A Theatre Think Tank, took the screen to give a few brief words about the show. Owing to the pandemic, the actors of “Small Steps” recorded their performances separately, with just a few scenes including more than one actor in the same physical space.

Charlie Lavaroni offers a convincing performance as Skip Powers, chronic “heartbreakee” and terminally awkward loner, who finds himself as the lone astronaut on a one-way trip to Mars despite his complete lack of applicable skills or experience. The show’s first half is dedicated to scenes establishing Powers’ loneliness and the preparation he must undergo for his interstellar trip—including a hot-headed “abstinence coach,” who Powers doesn’t really seem to need, and a deadpan doctor that Powers slowly befriends.

The cast of characters is wacky and diverse, but each retains the same snappy humor for the whole show, full of comebacks and snide derision. Some actors play multiple characters, though they’re able to distinguish between each sufficiently.

Throughout the barrage of comedic dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to pick apart what’s happening spatially; though some scenes are clearly meant to be video calls between characters, there’s little besides dialogue clues to indicate when they’re supposed to be in the same location, and few steps are taken to mitigate this confusion. The result is that there’s not much for the audience to latch onto and use to form a complete mental image of these scenes, giving “Small Steps” a feel at times closer to a reading than a proper performance.

The writing is frequently engaging and often goes in unexpected directions, though the tone remains more-or-less constant throughout. The character Skip Powers is regularly entertaining, if a bit simple, and pulls the show through its two hours with his self-deprecation and romantic angst. 

Despite some confusing production choices, “Small Steps” manages to be charming and consistent throughout its runtime and showcases local talent in a unique way—nothing to sneeze at under these current circumstances. Parties involved in the production have plans to put on more remote performances this year, undeterred by the pandemic: Catalyst, in collaboration with the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance and the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, will be performing “Perfect,” directed by JanLee Marshall, on Feb. 17.

Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org

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