Theater Review

Classika's 'Galactika' Makes Games And Giggles Out of Celestial Science

By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, July 13, 2006

This weekend is the last chance to catch Classika Theatre's children's show "Galactika" before it goes on summer break. "Galactika" takes kids on a fact-filled, entertaining tour through the birth of the universe and its stars, with stops along the way for various astronomy tidbits and plenty of pint-size comedy.

This show may have the most unusual pedigree of anything currently on stage in the region. It's the idea of Ilana Harrus, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Harrus wanted to bring the stars a little closer to young people, so with education funds connected to the Hubble Space Telescope project, she approached the geniuses of Synetic Theatre, Classika's artistic partner, which specializes in movement-based theater. Harrus thought Synetic would be able to translate her message about science in our lives for young minds. Classika/Synetic regular Nicholas A. Allen took it from there, directing and choreographing an unusual show based on Harrus's ideas that touches on a variety of things celestial, from nebulas to sunspots to comets.

After Sunday, "Galactika" will be on hiatus until Sept. 16. So this weekend might be a chance to re-charge the brains of your little ones and maybe even pick up a few things you missed during your own schooling. I did not know, for instance, that our sun, a relatively minor sun as suns go, has the volume of 130 million Earths. And we wonder why it gets so hot in August! I knew what a solar flare was, but I had never heard it described -- nor seen it brought to life -- as a gassy burp, something the kids in Classika's peanut gallery found particularly amusing one recent Saturday afternoon. They laughed, but I bet they will remember the concept behind the comedy.

Our tour guides are four young ladies, led by galactic reporter Halley Comet (Kathryn Kelly). Erin Kennedy, Shannon Listol and Jen Robison join her, playing a variety of roles and using dance and pantomime along with comedy-based skits.

The 2005 NASA probe of a comet is incorporated into the show, and it's amusing, even for adults, to see a colorfully crafted comet trying to avoid being struck by the NASA rocket. A "stellar nursery," where stars are formed from swirling clouds of gas and dust, is shown via an imaginative staging that uses lighting and props to make the points. Synetic's trademark movement, the highly stylized blending of disciplines ranging from ballet to hip-hop, is used to vivid effect throughout the show.

About 20 minutes in, to give the young kids a break, one assumes, there's a charming dance contest between two comets as each one seeks to prove she's the "coolest." But the creators need not have worried about attention spans. The show runs only about 35 minutes, and the kids are so enthralled by the colors and music and movement that it seems it could be twice as long and still hold their interest.

Even as the galaxy goes dark for a bit, Classika has another show for children in production. "The Little Mermaid" continues through Aug. 20. Recommended for children 4 and older, it is an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a mermaid who falls in love with a prince. A lovely princess and, of course, a nasty Sea Witch round out the cast in a show that director John-Paul Pizzica promises is a bit different from the Disney version that may be familiar to youngsters.

"Galactika," recommended for children age 5 and older, concludes this weekend, with performances at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Classika Theatre, in the Village at Shirlington, 4041 S. 28th Street, Arlington. "The Little Mermaid" continues through Aug. 20, with shows at noon Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets, call 703-824-6200 or visithttp://www.classika.org.


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