Not too much drama in ‘Expedition’

It was one of the more dramatic events in the history of space flight. In 2003, after the Columbia shuttle disaster, two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut were stranded on International Space Station Expedition 6: a life-and-death situation, but one that was immediately overshadowed in the news, and the public’s imagination, by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

With “Expedition 6,” Hollywood actor Bill Pullman attempts to bring the incident to the foreground again. Created and directed by Pullman and presented in association with the Chabot Space and Science Center, the show makes its world premiere at the Magic Theatre as the first production of the company’s 2007-08 season. Billed as a “docu-drama,” it will doubtless attract science types, stargazers and those hoping to catch a glimpse of Pullman, who was in attendance at a recent matinee.

For a general theater audience, the piece offers a fairly dull experience.

Pullman shaped his script from public record and various media sources, and an ensemble cast of eight performs it on a nearly empty stage with minimal props. In addition to astronauts Kenneth Bowersox and Donald Pettit, and cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin, the characters portrayed include science experts, NASA psychologists, reporters, TV anchors, the astronauts’ nervous wives and a clownish California millionaire who bought a trip into space.

There’s plenty of motion in the production — hanging overhead is a web of trapezes, which the actors use with balletic skill in solo, duo and group configurations. Watching them swing, turn, glide and simply float above the stage (trapeze choreography by Robert Davidson), it’s easy to imagine the weightlessness of space travel. A live soundtrack by Gary Grundel adds to the atmosphere.

What Pullman hasn’t managed to do is mine the human drama of the event. The show makes a few strong points about NASA scientists who hadn’t done their homework, and the media that turned away from the event after it became clear it wasn’t disastrous enough to make headlines.

But it’s hard to care about anyone onstage; the central characters are woefully one-dimensional, and the minor ones come across like talking heads. Sometimes it’s unclear who is speaking at all. Everyone delivers the lines in a dry monotone better suited to a science lecture than a theater piece.

Meanwhile, Pullman ’s attempt to draw links between the Iraq war and the shabby treatment the astronauts received — they were left in space for four months, long after their bodies and spirits had started to deteriorate — feels tacked on. By the end, the real tragedy of “Expedition 6” is the dramatic potential left untapped.

Expedition 6

Where: Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 7

Tickets: $20-$45; sliding scale $5-$25 Wednesdays a half-hour before performance

Contact: (415) 441-8822; www.magictheatre.org

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden arrive at Biden's inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021, in Washington, DC.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)
Joe Biden issues call for ‘unity’ amidst extreme partisan rancor

‘I will be a president for all Americans,’ he says in inauguration speech

From left, Doug Emhoff, U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Jill Biden and President-elect Joe Biden wave as they arrive on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)
Joe Biden inaugurated as 46th president as Trump era comes to an end

Todd Spangler Detroit Free Press Taking over the reins of government at… Continue reading

San Francisco City Hall is lit in gold and amber to remember victims as part of a national Memorial to Lives Lost to COVID-19 on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco joins national COVID memorial ceremony

San Francisco took part Tuesday in the first national Memorial to Lives… Continue reading

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
With executive orders, Biden to reverse Trump policies on environment, immigration

Evan Halper Los Angeles Times President-elect Joe Biden will move swiftly to… Continue reading

Private vehicles were banned from much of Market Street in January 2020, causing bike ridership on the street to increase by 25 percent and transit efficiency by as much as 12 percent. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board approves new Better Market Street legislation

Advocates say traffic safety improvements don’t go far enough to make up for lost bikeway

Most Read