Science fiction, even in its campiest, pulpiest, B-moviest forms, strikes a nerve because there’s usually something that speaks to human folly, and therefore their flawed past and doomed future.
For his Hip Pocket Theatre, Johnny Simons isn’t striving for satire on the current state of things with his adaptation of the comic and radio serial “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe,” which was turned into three movies in the late 1930s—but he does give it that punch at the end. This comes, of course, after Earth has been saved from a planet hurtling toward it and the villain Ming the Merciless (Michael Joe Goggans).
We always need another hero.
Flash Gordon was one of the greats. Simons’ script follows the serials, with sections from the black-and-white film shown on an upstage screen. After learning of the dangerous clash with the planet, Flash (James Warila), Dale Arden (Elysia Worcester) and Dr. Zarkov (Thad Isbell) travel in his space ship to Mongo. They encounter Ming, Lady Ming (Dena Phillips), Princess Aura (Rebo Hill), Mistress of Mongo Moon (Julie Ballew), King Vultan (Rick Gutierrez), several Hawkmen and other beings.
We know how it’ll end, but the fun is watching Hip Pocket’s staging, which treats this kind of material with reverence—and therefore the comedy speaks for itself—incorporating performance and vocal styles from the originals. For instance, they all pronounce the word “evil” as “e-VILE.” The earnestness is highly comical, in the best sense.
The dialog is not all that important, though. This is one of those shows in which Simons has the cast pantomiming during recorded musical numbers, on such songs as Electric Light Orchestra’s “Take Me On and On” and “All She Wanted.” Puppets for space ships and planets, to indicate space travel, are clever, as are the Hawkmen wings.
Perhaps best of all are the Queens of the Universe (Jasmine Marie West, Kristi Ramos Toler, Peggy Bott Kirby), who narrate and introduce the chapters, just like in the radio serial. Many of the performers are HPT long-timers, but even the youngsters are on board with Simons’ style. They get into the broad gestures and expressions, and the yes-they-are-serious dialog. Goggans is particularly funny as Ming, and Phillips is a bigger hoot as his queen—and that’s just with her expressive face.
It’s not satire, but for an up-to-date kicker, when it’s announced that Flash and his crew must “restore balance to the universe for the sake of all creation,” and that after it has been saved, the dream is to have “a world with no borders and no walls,” a collective sigh can be heard in the audience. “After all,” one character says, “on Earth we have our own tyrants to deal with.”
Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe
Through June 25
Silver Creek Amphitheatre, 1950 Silver Creek Drive, Fort Worth