Sailing Over a Cardboard Sea

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The sister and brother team of Lucia A. Treasure (director) and Thomas Treasure (writer) describe Pigeonaire‘s production of Sailing Over a Cardboard Sea as “an immersive theatrical spectacle that explores memory and the lush, life-giving moon.” The show, however, is hardly a piece of lunacy; it is a thoughtful reflection on the responsibility that scientists have to their societies.

Treasure’s play imagines a reunion of the Apollo 11 Mission Control team, the “nerds” who managed the first landing of a human on the moon in 1969. Thirtieth reunions usually turn veterans, athletes, and even classmates into affectionate sentimentalists. Compared to 1969, however, 1999 was an anxious, skeptical time, and the six men who have come to the reunion (easily identified by their white shirts and dark ties) find themselves wondering what the Apollo 11 mission was all about. 

Ranging through the taproom at the Peabody Heights Brewery, shouting, climbing on chairs, and all but coming to blows, the engineers argue about whether the purpose of the lunar landing really was scientific research.

Rick (Connor M. Kizer) claims sourly that “scientists have always been pawns of the military.” Terry (Derek Cooper), who resembles another American iconoclast, Malcolm X, outrages his colleagues by announcing that the entire lunar landing is a myth; the famous television footage was shot in a warehouse in Kansas City.  Fred (Jake Budenz) takes the debate to a new level by claiming that World War II was a Hollywood production, directed by John Ford and featuring Charlie Chaplin. National myth-making is as illusory as the backdrop in the Harold Arlen song, “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”


JacQuan Knox and Emefa Agawu. Photo by Melina Giorgi.
Charles Armstrong, EMiR, Derek Cooper, and Jakey Zabawa. Photo by Melina Giorgi.

In the end, the nerds seem to agree that scientific knowledge was the objective, as far as they are concerned. The announcement for the gathering, projected over the stage, declares, “It was our mission, Neil Armstrong was just along for the ride.” Change “Neil Armstrong” to “Harry Truman” and that could be a remark by J. Robert Oppenheimer: just as the atom bomb dramatically demonstrated atomic theory, so the Apollo landing demonstrated a generation of engineering. More than a generation, in fact. Fred claims that the fabric of the space suits was based on ancient basket-weaving techniques. 

The play ends with the engineers imagining themselves on the barren moon, watching the blue-and-green earth rising as in the famous photo. The landing may have been, as Neil Armstrong meant to say, “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”—the engineers hilariously debate the indefinite article—but the leap was toward Mother Earth.

Sailing Over a Cardboard Sea opens and closes with sets of moon-themed songs gracefully performed by JacQuan Knox, accompanied by Emefa Agawu. Kristen Anchor developed the handsome video projections. The show runs Thursdays, Saturdays, (at 9:30) and Sundays (at 8:00) through March 31, at the Peabody Heights Brewery, 401 E. 30th St.


Addendum: For those interested in the question of whether scientists (or artists) should try to control the use of their discoveries, the Johns Hopkins Theatre Arts Program is presenting the classic play on the subject, Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo, April 3-7 in the John Astin Theatre in the Merrick Barn. 

Derek Cooper and Connor Kizer, photo by Melina Giorgi.

Photos courtesy of Pigeonaire.

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