Polyxena In Orbit

category: short play
genre: fantasy
running time: twenty minutes
setting: England; Space
period: a juxtaposition of the Victorian Age and the Space Age

Polyxena, a Princess
Professor Darius, her tutor
Hubert, her help walrus
Tolliver, a boy
Mr. Bishop, his father
Tolliver’s Dead Mum, a ghost
Samantha, a space walrus
Mabel, an octopus woman
A Bus Driver
A Shooting Star

Polyxena is a princess whose best friends are her tutor and a talking walrus named Hubert. Tolliver is a miserable boy whose father treats him very badly despite Tolliver’s continued efforts to be good. Eventually, Tolliver runs away to outer space, leaving Mr. Bishop to discover his own hidden love for the boy. After a chance encounter brings Polyxena and Mr. Bishop together, the princess and Hubert fly into space searching for Tolliver, eventually finding him employed by a horrible octopus woman named Mabel from whom they rescue him. Hubert chooses to remain in space with Samantha, a space walrus with whom he’s fallen in love, but Polyxena and Tolliver return to earth where Polyxena vows to give Tolliver the life of love he’s never known and both are reunited with their respective guardians.

author’s comments:
Every now and then I really break the tether and just write something directly from the heart and onto the page: this is probably the best example of that. This surreal, bittersweet little play was inspired by the backstage banter between me and the cast of The Future of the Female, in which I was performing at the time, as well as an old picture of me, Anne Heintz, Werner James, Jasmine Koh and Chris McCaleb, where Werner is dressed as a gold walrus and Anne is wearing silver hot pants. That photo, for some reason, has always mentally been titled “Polyxena and Friends.” The character of Professor Darius has been hanging around since he was cut from an early draft of Attack of the Killer Space Zombies and somehow Mr. Bishop and Tolliver just manifested themselves when I was trying to pull together a story to match the photograph. Combining my love of Victorian children’s literature (which like this play, often follows its own kind of demented logic) with an adult sense of parody and darkness, and my endless fascination with space, I basically wrote this piece in one hour on my lunch break at work, later forcing my co-workers to read it and then doing one quick revision before realizing it was actually already done. All that wouldn’t mean very much if by some stroke of luck it hadn’t turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever written. Really intended for adults more than children, I do think it could be performed for either and if combined with two or three more pieces of equal length it would be a fine caper to an evening of one acts as it definitely has a curtain closer quality to it. The cast is also very flexible, requiring only seven actors if the smaller roles are doubled but accommodating as many as ten. There is definitely a trick to striking the balance between the currents of absurd and sincere that run through the play, but that could be said about a lot of my work and is maybe the challenging part of me that deters so many would-be producers. At least this piece is short.

Staged Readings: 

Actors’ Ensemble of Berkeley, July 23, 2020, on Zoom. Directed by Vicki Victoria. Cast: Crystal Brown (Polyxena), Bruce Kaplan (Hubert), Jaq Wolfe (Tolliver),  Jeffrey Trescott (Professor Darius), Janelle Aguirre (Tolliver’s Dead Mum), Mr. Bishop (Patrick Glenn), Beth Swanson (Samantha), Vicki Victoria (Mabel/Shooting Star), Michael Cohen (Driver), Nathan Bolger (Stage Directions)


Scott Ayres, Warden Lawlor, and Stacy Malia in the No Nude Men production.
Scott Ayres, Warden Lawlor, and Stacy Malia in the No Nude Men production.

No Nude Men Productions, May 4, 5, 11, 12, 2007, EXIT Theater on Taylor, in San Francisco, California. Directed by Stuart Bousel; Lighting by James Tinsley; Scenery & Costumes by Stuart Bousel. Cast: Stacy Malia (Polyxena), Wylie Herman (Tolliver), Kevin Tierney (Darius), Janna Sobel (Tolliver’s Dead Mum), Warden Lawlor (Hubert), Scott Alexander Ayres (Mr. Bishop), Claire Rice (Transport Driver/Mabel), Cassie Powell (Shooting Star/Samantha)

Warden Lawlor and Cassie Powell in the No Nude Men production.
Warden Lawlor and Cassie Powell in the No Nude Men production.

Otherworld Theatre Company, October 1, 2016, part of the Paragon Theatre Festival at the Public House Theatre, in Chicago, Illinois. Directed by Jared McDaris. Costumes by Delena Bradley. Cast: Nathan Ducker (Tolliver), Rachel Geistfeld (Shooting Star), Gilly Guire (Tolliver’s Dead Mum), Zack McCann (Hubert), Jared McDaris (Professor Darius), Amos Omer (Mr. Bishop), Sarah Jean Tilford (Transport Driver/Mabel/Samantha)

The Otherworld Theatre Cast of Polyxena (2016).
The Cast of the Otherworld Theatre production.  

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