THE ROCKET MAN, House Theatre of Chicago, at the Viaduct Theater. In the 90s it was all the rage to produce shows that both parodied and honored eccentric subgenres and cult classics: horror movies, Texas cheerleader murder stories, Russ Meyer's soft-core porn. These productions could be fun but were often too ironic, as the artists refused to embrace the targeted cultural artifact.
Phillip C. Klapperich doesn't suffer from this problem. His new play may be a pastiche of scenes, characters, and plot twists from dozens of sci-fi novels and low-budget movies, but the story is straight from the heart. Even when Nathan Allen's staging veers toward camp, as when space launches are indicated by flimsy cardboard rockets and lots of smoke from a fog machine, we don't laugh; the tale Klapperich tells is too engrossing.
The Rocket Man owes most to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, both for its details and for its general tone: Klapperich has Bradbury's sweet, literate, slightly old-fashioned style down cold, but without the sentimentality that makes Bradbury hard to take for anyone older than 15. A crack creative team and smart, energetic, capable actors (and one live DJ) help put this nicely written play across. Chris Mathews and Carolyn Defrin are especially moving as lovers who must literally cross the stars to hook up.