The Annex Theater’s production of Philip K Dick’s classic happens not on a conventional stage but in a back hallway with a gently slanting floor. The performance space is created between seats lining both walls and two rows of periactoids (movable towers) blocking off either end of the hall. A projector and a row of ceiling lights keep the show visible. The stage is raised off the ground to help level out the floor, but the audience will never notice the lop-sided actors because the audience will find themselves sitting on stage as well.
At first, the DYI environment would seem at odds with Ubik’s setting: a highly complex, hyper-capitalistic, science fiction world where psychic and anti-psychic corporations run space colonies across the stars. However, the Annex Theater makes their esthetic work and creates an effective retro-sci fi look and feel. The props and costumes (cardboard robot suits, technological apparatuses made of old computer and music equipment parts) have a lot of pesdo-futuristic character. The painted walls for each scene fall within the spectrum from stark buttons and nobs to goofy, futuristic hotel wallpaper patterns. Between scenes a variety of home-made commercials are projected, which are often highly sarcastic and hilarious. The plot is foggy in parts and it is recommended to have read the novel prior to seeing the play, though it is not necessary.
According to production director Rick Gerriets, the staging location of Ubik was an unexpected sweet spot. Initially, the play was to be the opening production for the Annex Theater’s new home, the old New York Fried Chicken building on North Ave. But as it became clear the new space would not be ready, they shifted their eyes across the street to the D-Center. Overcoming the rush to build the stage after the D-Center’s Pust Fust 2012 show, giving them less then a week to set up, the Annex Theater was able to create a very cozy, and engaging, performance and seating space. Intimacy with the audience is very important to the Annex Theater, says Garriets, and interacting with their surrounding community is something the theater companies strives for. Garriets claims, interesting spaces such as D-Center are something large production companies could never pull off and is one of the joys left to small theater companies.
With several lo-tech solutions, the play makes for a sincere adaption of the futuristic novel. The actors make the play more digestible by sticking to classic archetypes: The hard-boiled, down on his luck Joe Chip and smart mouthed G.G. Ashwood give two notable performances. Though, they are not without some originality, character Al Hammond rounds out the cast with an often humorous, overtly sensual demeanor. When the curtain falls, it seems the actors had as much fun preforming as the audience had while watching. Overall, Ubik is a sometimes witty, often suspenseful, charming performance.
Ubik is being preformed by the Annex Theater at Station North’s D-Center on Thursday-Sunday, 8pm, December 6th-30th.
Author Sean Ostrowski is a MICA Graduate and Baltimore-based Designer, Artist, and Writer.