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This week, the US announced new rules around “space junk,” the detritus of previous space missions and decommissioned satellites orbiting Earth. How fitting, then, that a production finishing off the 2022 Fringe Festival, Unorthodox Methods of Cosmic Flight, is about space, and staged at The Living Gallery at Launch Point, a room that is filled with recycled and salvaged art and artifacts that might otherwise be classified as junk.
Of Covid and cosmonauts
The Fringe Festival ended October 2. However, in a scenario all too familiar in 2022, most of the original Unorthodox Methods run was canceled after Covid-19 hit the cast, and new performance dates were added to the weekend following the festival’s official close. It’s now running through October 9.
It’s fortunate that both Fringe and the Launch Point—the Spring Arts district venue hosting The Living Gallery—were able to accommodate this extended run, because Unorthodox Methods is truly delightful, and the surrounding installation (inspired by Ilya Kabakov’s The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment) a joy to peruse.
Directed by Anastassia Vertjanova, Unorthodox Methods of Cosmic Flight tells the story of Breezy (Ella Stoller) and Ember (Noah Sturtridge), two young wannabe cosmonauts who want to figure out their own way into space. There is a small trampoline onstage, and a refrigerator that also serves as a question box. There’s a very cute stuffed dog who may or may not itself be going to space, a baby spider plant, and an assortment of colored pencils used in creating increasingly daring ideas for space travel.
Stoller and Sturtridge are charming, playing their parts with a sort of wide-eyed innocence you wouldn’t think to attribute to cosmonauts (even of the wannabe variety), but there’s still a Soviet resourcefulness and determination behind the fancy. And the script similarly feels in some ways very true to Russian drama—think Chekhov at his silliest rather than his most serious—although Unorthodox Methods is itself a new work.
Space, not junk
I was expecting The Living Gallery to be a linear space with a stage at one end; instead, the playing space for Unorthodox Methods is in the midst of the circular path one follows around the gallery, making the play as much of an installation as it is a work of drama. The stage backdrop is collaged newspapers and advertisements with the occasional Soviet propaganda-inspired poster by Kayce Dygert—usually involving dogs—visible in full color above the newsprint.
The rest of the space, designed by Annemarie Branco and including works by a dozen makers and artists, feels part 1990s bowl-in-the-dark night, part flea market, and part junkyard. It’s hard to describe, other than to say that every single component of the gallery, from painted lids hung as mobiles and strewn on the floor to a salvaged Tesla lamp to a sketch of a “shooting” star, feels like it belongs there. The space can be tight as the audience packs in, so be mindful of the artworks that are strewn over the ground and try not to step on anything as you work your way through.
The Living Gallery is largely visible from the seating area for Unorthodox Methods, if you choose to look around during the show, and indeed I found a few times I had my head on a swivel noticing something I hadn’t seen during my earlier walkthrough. I wouldn’t say it was distracting per se; however, it did make for a sort of maximalism that keeps your focus from lingering too long in one place. But if you think of the gallery being the setting of the play and the play being part of the gallery installation, what you wind up with is a really quintessential Fringe production—one that’s out of this world.
What, When, Where
The Living Gallery at Launch Point. Production designed by Annemarie Branco; curated by Anastassia Vertjanova. Through October 9, 2022, at Launch Point, 1025 Hamilton Street, Philadelphia. fringearts.com.
Unorthodox Methods of Cosmic Flight. Directed by Anastassia Vertjanova. Pay-what-you-wish. Through October 9, 2022, at Launch Point, 1025 Hamilton Street, Philadelphia. fringearts.com.
Proof of Covid-19 vaccination is required, and masks must be worn inside the venue.
Both The Living Gallery and Unorthodox Methods are hosted at Launch Point, an upstairs venue accessible by stairs only.
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