By Douglas Adams
Directed by Dana Hope
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2011, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been a global phenomenon ever since the radio series first hit the British airwaves in 1978. It ran for a total of five seasons, intermittently, from 1978 to 2005 and spawned six novels, one television series, several stage productions, a comic book series, a feature film, and various other media interpretations. It tells of the misadventures of one very British Arthur Dent as he escapes the destruction of the planet Earth and discovers the rest of the universe is a very mind-bending and hilarious place to be.

Although there are stage adaptations available, the Alley Theater’s current production goes back to the very beginning and utilizes the original radio scripts of the series’ original four episodes. A good choice, considering none of the later incarnations have ever come close to the brilliance of the wordplay of the original, but nonetheless a challenge in presenting a radio play in a visual medium like live theater.  And for the most part, it is a challenge the Alley is very much up to.

Director Dana Hope has turned the Alley into 1970s-era radio station WLOL (love it!) complete with period-appropriate posters on the walls (the framed photo of the play’s late author, Douglas Adams, is an especially nice touch), and the actors are decked out with appropriately loud ’70s fashions. The performers sit around tables and drink beer when they are not creating sound effects or taking their turns at the microphones.  It all comes off as very authentic.

Aside from a few minor quibbles with some of the attempts at British accents, the cast’s performances are uniformly spot-on.  Everyone plays multiple roles, but special mention has to be given to Alan Canon as “The Book,” the omniscient voice of the titular pan-galactic encyclopedia and travel guide which serves as the show’s narrator. His accent never falters over some truly tongue-twisting passages, and he seems to be truly channeling the late Peter Jones (who originated the role for the BBC). Kimby Peterson also shines in all the female roles, especially vamping it up as Trillian, Arthur’s unrequited love interest and fellow escapee from Earth.

John Aurelius turns in some nice work as Ford Prefect, Arthur’s best friend and alien from Betelgeuse (love the hair); Tom Dunbar breaks tradition nicely by playing planet-building Slartibartfast against type, abandoning the traditional British accent for a redneck model; and Scott Goodman brings a fun, seventies swinger-vibe to two-headed, three-armed galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox.

But any production of The Hitchhiker’s Guide will live or die based on the actor who portrays Arthur Dent, and I’m happy to say Kent Carney effectively nails it here. The character is designed as a British everyman whose stiff-upper-lip attitude just can’t cope with the barrage of bizarre happenings he is forced to contend with, and Carney conveys it all brilliantly. You can truly feel the character’s exasperation.

Any stage production will have its share of pros and cons, and the cons here are trivial. As this is supposed to be a live radio broadcast, the visual of the actors reading from their scripts is appropriate. However, some of the actors barely look at them, which sort of distances you from the production. As an actor myself I am always impressed when performers can flawlessly rattle off the type of difficult material presented here, but in this case just for authenticity’s sake I think they should have at least pretended to be more attached to their scripts. That is a minor quibble though in a thoroughly enjoyable production.
Overall, I had a lovely time and can’t wait to see the story continued in what I am promised will be future productions of the rest of this legendary and hilarious series.
Starring John Aurelius, Alan Canon, Kent Carney, Tom Dunbar, Scott Goodman, and Kimby Peterson.
November 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19, 2011.  Shows at 7:30 PM.
The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street
Louisville, KY 40202