Presenting what is perhaps the largest comic book in history, Redmoon Theatre’s “The Astronaut’s Birthday” opened Thursday night at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The production mixes elements of theatre – live performance, an elaborate set – with sequential comic illustrations projected onto three stories of the museum’s exterior to tell a Silver Age Marvel-style story of adventure in space. “The Astronaut’s Birthday” was co-created by Frank Maugeri and Jim Lasko, directed by Maugeri, and written by Tria Smith. Chris Burnham, artist of “Officer Downe” at Image and BOOM! Studios’ current “Amory Wars” series, served as Storyboard/Story Consultant and Donovan Foote was the Lead Illustrator/Character Developer, working with a cast of other artists. The result of their cumulative efforts was a production that can be enjoyed both as a simple sci-fi adventure and a masterful work of theatrical engineering and spectacle.
The Redmoon creators make use of several different panel sizes – two windows by two windows is the smallest, with other common sizes being 4×2 and 6×4 and many images take up the full canvas – to excellent effect in terms of pacing and directing focus; it’s clear they know the comic book medium as well as how its conventions can best be applied to the company’s purposes. The performative aspect of the panels, too – shaking fists, grasping robotic hands, smoking debris, falling rockets, etc. – add an additional layer of excitement. There is occasionally more direct performance, as well, as actors’ silhouettes interact with the illustrated scenery. Though there are some small hiccups in coordinating so many moving parts, the fact that everything comes together as fluidly as it does is a testament to the project’s intricate choreography.
“The Astronaut’s Birthday” runs Thursday, Friday, and Sunday at 7:30pm, Sept. 9-26 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. For tickets or additional information visit mcachicago.org.