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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Don’t panic! ‘Guide’ a scrappy tribute to original

Published: April 30, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

I went to the Brandeis Official Readers’ Guild’s (BORG) production of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” with some reservations. I love Douglas Adams’ radio play, with its talented vocal cast, nifty sound effects and killer theme song. I couldn’t bear to see what carbon-based life forms would do to it. I gulped a pan-galactic gargle blaster, wrapped my towel around my neck and hoped for the best.

The phrase “Don’t Panic!” was written in friendly white letters on a projector screen when I entered. I instantly felt better.

“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” follows the adventures of a befuddled Arthur Dent and his alien friend Ford Prefect as they traverse various galaxies following the destruction of Earth, Arthur’s home planet. With the help of the Hitchhiker’s Guide, a record of nearly everything in the universe, Arthur and Ford hitch a ride with hostile aliens, learn the importance of always carrying a towel on your intergalactic travels and discover the ancient planet of Magrathea.

The biggest challenge director Leah Bartels ’12 must have faced was making the radio play her own. Since the original radio series aired in the 1970s, it has been adapted into books, plays, comics, computer games and film. Some, like the books, were extremely successful, while others—like the unfortunate musical—were not. The series has been poked and prodded, torn apart and stitched back together, transformed so as to be almost unrecognizable or simply poorly imitated. This leaves any new adaptations with the burden of trying to add something new to a source material that has been gradually sapped of its creative energy.

BORG’s production mainly stays true to the original radio play. There isn’t much deviation apart from the occasional Brandeis allusion. Who wrote the worse poetry in the universe? Why, Carl Shapiro, of course.

Bartels adds to the original play through the staging of her adaptation. There are no fancy effects or gizmos, but this defines, in part, this scrappy production’s charm. In the opening scene, Arthur’s home is about to be knocked down to make way for a bypass. In Bartels’ version, Arthur (Andrew Prentice ’13) lies in front of a small plastic toy tractor, a charming addition to the absurdity of Arthur’s situation. The best use of a prop was when Arthur had to turn on the spaceship’s improbability drive, which was an “easy button.” As soon as he pressed the button, the lights dimmed and “That was easy!” sounded. I almost spit out my pan-galactic gargle blaster from laughing.

The costumes are similarly unpretentious. Marvin the manically depressed robot (Scott Finkelstein ’12) wears a spray-painted cardboard construction, while the Vogon aliens wear kitchen gloves, goggles and antennae headbands.

However, Bartels’ best change to the original canon is her presentation of the Book. In the radio series, the Book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide, interrupts the action and narrates. In BORG’s version, the lights are dimmed on-set, and the Book (Tegan Kehoe ’10) is given a spotlight. This device cleverly adapts the Book’s role for the stage, transforming the Book into a kind of announcer.

The performances in the play varied in terms of acting skill, but, for the most part, they were satisfactory. Prentice plays Arthur with the right amount of confusion, and Daniel Noar ’13 as Ford Prefect proves an effective cool-headed foil.

BORG’s production was by no means perfect: Kehoe fumbled a few of her lines, Finkelstein ran into a curtain because his Marvin costume obstructed his view and some of the acting was amateurish—but I think Adams would have approved.