Time travel stories often find characters encountering past or present versions of themselves, witnessing key decisions or incidents that impact their future trajectory. On film and television, these seemingly impossible scenes become believable thanks to technology that lets the viewer see the both the future and present version of the character in the same shot. On stage, the same effect is more difficult to accomplish. With capable actors and a well-thought-out script, Walking Shadow’s world premiere of John Heimbuch’s The Transdimensional Couriers Union is able to perform the feat and take audience members on an intense, time-traveling sci-fi ride.
|the transdimensional couriers union, playing through may 29 at the cedar riverside people’s center. for tickets ($18) and information, see walkingshadowcompany.org.|
Opening this past weekend, The Transdimensional Couriers Union—named for a futuristic group of travelers who deliver packages to various points in time—follows the story of two lovers who unwillingly get swept into a dangerous cross-generation race to save the future. The play begins when Sophie (Melissa Anne Murphy), an artist, mistakenly receives a cryptic message from the future—a future where she and her boyfriend Peter (Sid Solomon) are seemingly gun-wielding enemies. Or wait, it actually begins in a scene in the second act, two years earlier, when Eleanor Morgan (Jean Wolff) and Savien Mercure (Alan Sorenson) meet in Paris and begin the process of creating the CX9 InterTemporal Impulse Device, a device that allows an individual to travel between any two points in time, as long as there is a receiver in both locations. Then again, maybe the play actual begins right where it ends; in a scene that makes us question if we’re destined to make the same decisions over again or if we can create new variations of our timelines.
I raise the question of when the play actually starts because the piece, which Heimbuch also directs, is told in a non-linear fashion. It’s sort of a Back-to-the-Future-meets-Memento hybrid in which audience members are challenged to piece together scenes, creating a narrative that isn’t always so obvious. A self-admitted nerd for time travel, I found the production’s first act to be more successful in keeping the audience in the loop. Scenes that introduced Sophie and Peter to their newfound surroundings and had them asking the same questions going through my mind, if not others’ in the audience, are helpful to keep some basic questions at bay and keep the focus on the overarching story and themes. The later half of the second act is more rushed, having the audience and characters jump more frequently through time and increasing the risk of confusion in the process. This pacing also unfortunately makes some of the heavier scenes at the end not pack quite as much punch as they would if built to more deliberately.
With limited scenery and sets, the responsibility to make the play’s action believable falls largely on the actors, and they meet the task. Rounding out the small cast are Randy Schmeling as an adventurer who gets a little too caught up in the ride and Anna Sundberg as a laboratory assistant who knows more than she initially reveals. Both have compelling and complicated story arcs and are truly enjoyable to watch as they struggle with their own moral compasses and romantic revelations.
The Transdimensional Couriers Union is one of the most complex and ambitious plays I’ve seen, even if it is a bit too long, and rushed at the end. Like all great pieces of (science) fiction, it raises questions about humanity, our emotions, and our limitations. That these questions hinge on time travel is a welcome, and admittedly geeky, bonus.