By John Benson
Just an FYI, for those who society calls nerds, the politically correct term these days appears to be geek.
So with that in mind, geeks all over America have been drawn to the touring production “The Intergalactic Nemesis,” which makes its Cleveland debut Thursday at PlayhouseSquare’s Palace Theatre.
This unique performance of the original graphic novel “The Intergalactic Nemesis” features three actors, a Foley artist and a keyboardist performing all the voices, sound effects and music along to more than 1,000 hand-drawn, full-color, hi-res comic-book images displayed from a two-story high screen. A Foley artist creates sound effects for live shows using everyday objects.
For the aforementioned geeks, such a creative and unusual notion results in a mind-blowing experience at the alluring intersection of comic book love, sci-fi interest and live-performance cool. Think “Big Bang Theory”-meets-“Mystery Science Theater.”
“Exactly,” said project creator Jason Neulander, calling from Austin, Texas. “The show is just a lot of fun. I feel like in many ways it’s just kind of this wonderful happy accident. We were treading new ground, and I don’t know if there is anything quite like it out there.
“Years of doing theater kind of taught me that the way to make an experience that an audience talks about afterwards — for me at least as a director — is kind of finding the most minimal way to create the most maximal affect. And let the audience’s imagination be a huge part of that.”
The “The Intergalactic Nemesis” storyline, which takes place in the ’30s, revolves around Pulitzer-winning reporter Molly Sloan, her intrepid assistant Timmy Mendez and a mysterious librarian named Ben Wilcott. Together, the trio faces an impending invasion of sludge monsters from the planet Zygon.
The show coming to Cleveland involves the first “The Intergalactic Nemesis” book, with another show already touring featuring the second installment. Neulander said he envisions the series as a trilogy.
“The Intergalactic Nemesis” was first staged in 2010 to rabid fans in Austin. While Neulander admitted he didn’t know what to expect, audiences have come to embrace the show in ways he never anticipated.
“There’s a moment about two-thirds through Act 1 that is pretty telling,” Neulander said. “There’s this chilling scene, and you can hear a pin drop. When the audience gets to that place, and I know they’re wrapped in the story, that to me is as gratifying as it gets.”
While reveling in the geekdom of “The Intergalactic Nemesis,” Neulander makes sure the show isn’t misrepresented as some sort of esoteric celebration of obscure sci-fi references and single dudes in their 30s still living in their parents’ basement.
Instead, he’s saying the show caters to a mainstream audience that will hang on to every twist and turn of the exciting storyline.
“At this point, everybody is a consumer of pop culture who has grown up in the post-‘Star Wars’ era where this kind of storytelling is just cool,” Neulander said. “So what we’ve done is try to create a new way of telling a story that is very much an homage of that kind of storytelling. That’s why they’re going to totally love the show.”