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James Scarborough

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Space Trek: A Sci-Fi Comedy, The All American Melodrama Theater

Posted: 08/31/11 05:33 PM ET

When you see a production at The All American Melodrama Theater & Music Hall, you go for the particular show (In this case, it's Space Trek: A Sci Fi Comedy, written and directed by Ken Parks) but you remember the atmosphere. Shoreline Village itself is a little slice of make-believe so, to enter the theater is to go one step beyond make believe, into the magical. That's what this is, magical.

The Melodrama experience brims with continuity. From production to production, from season to season, you get the same sense of a theatrical family, your family, the same wonderfully acted stories peopled with outlandish characters. It's a preternaturally family-friendly place. The cast plays to the audience, the audience responds as you would expect: with great mirth. The actors serve you your meal. The piano music that Jimmy Dunn provides doesn't just sass up the production but, literally setting the stage, it makes the place hop before the curtain. The stories are always unbelievably funny but, if you listen closely, they are also constructed with an unerring ear for pop cultural references and, though they're melodrama, they resonate with life lessons,

As always, the ensemble cast here was pitch perfect, exaggerating their character's cartooney characteristic (vanity, ego, righteous- and villaneousness) without smearing it with too-much-ness. The bravura of the two heroes -- Captain James T. Smirk (Parks), Duke Moonwalker (Eric Modyman) -- has to match each other and it has to stand up to the dastardliness of the villain -- Juan Montalbon (Dale Jones). It does. The heroine -- Princess Hey Ya (Kathleen Hallo) -- has to be demure but also responsive to her various calls to love. She is. Parks brings a smarmy swagger to his Smirk, captain of the Starship Enterprise Rent-a-Car. If you can imagine John Wayne in La Cage Aux Folles, then you can picture what Parks does to his character.

Modyman's Duke Moonwalker, lately off a farm, an ant farm (and he has an aunt on this ant farm -- go figure) is nicely cast as everything that Parks's Smirk isn't: young, handsome, and beaming. It's little wonder that he catches the eye, not to mention everything else, of Hallo's Princess Hey Ya (If you put a hard accent on the "Hey," it sounds like you're calling her name in a crowd, which happens to be what's occurring here: the two heroes and the two villains are all making a play on her).

Hallo's Princess is willowy, as princesses invariably are, her eyes flutter, and she has the ability to show, at the same time, immense and instant affection for Duke and immense and instant disdain for everyone else. Jonathan Howowitz's Daft Raider, the asthmatic assassin, is lethal, all right; but he's also wisecracking. If you could survive a confrontation with him, he'd be just the guy with whom to have a drink afterwards at the bar. Jones' Montalbon has a voice that reminds you of the classic cartoon voices. It projects, it conveys all the nuances of nasty, bitter and disenfranchised. Out of all the cast's improvised asides to the audience, his were the most poignant. And Michael Ornelas' Schlock, a fine cross between the iconic Spock and Shrek, was the perfect foil to Parks' Smirk, being not just his coolheaded logical self but also less prone than his colleague to put his foot into his mouth.

The story's easy to follow, so you can tuck into your chili dog or spaghetti without missing a beat. It's a tale of heroes and villains, of saving a beautiful princess from losing not just control of her planet but also a couple of ill-conceived if not stomach-turning marriages. It mixes the storylines and characters of Star Trek and Star Wars, conceiving it as a satirical spoof both on the sci fi genre as well as on the, if you think hard about it, silly characters that populate both franchises. The script is ridiculously witty, the opening musical number, "Space Trekkin," generates major G-forces of laughter and easily frees us from the gravity of the ho-hum so we can venture forth into the outer realms of the outlandish. The result? We cheer, boo, and hiss like kids, which is precisely the point. As Parks says before the curtain, We don't take ourselves seriously and neither should you. What a lovely antidote for being all grown up.

Performances are 7:30pm Friday and Saturday, 4:30pm Saturday and 7pm Sunday. The show runs until September 11. Tickets are $14-$20. The Theater is located at 420 Shoreline Village. For more information call (562) 495-5900 or visit www.allamericanmelodrama.com.