Take Me to Your Theatre

Take Me to Your Theatre

‘Visit to a Small Planet’ explores 1950s-era in an upbeat made-for-TV comedy.

As a junior at Bishop Ireton High School in 1984, C. Evans Kirk didn’t have a full appreciation for all the subtleties of Gore Vidal’s 1957 television comedy “Visit to a Small Planet.” He played Roger, a newscasting father figure in an oddball script that’s a popular one-act play. The plot features a highly advanced alien named Kreton who arrives in Manassas wearing Confederate gray. Instead of landing in the midst of cannon fire at Bull Run, the alien finds himself befriending a suburbanite family in Maryland and falling in love with their daughter.

“It’s a satire on war, and it shows how war can be a game,” said Kirk, an Alexandria native who is the events coordinator for Goodwin House Bailey's Crossroads in Falls Church. “I’ve always had a fondness for the play, and when I reread the script I realized that the war undertones could relate to what’s going on in society today.”

After graduating from Bishop Ireton in 1985, Kirk got a degree in play writing from George Mason University and has been involved in the Washington theater scene ever since. He has directed several productions at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, most recently "Sylvia" in 2002, as well as plays at Aldersgate Community Theatre, Dominion Stage and Port City Players. When the theater selected “Visit to a Small Planet,” Kirk decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to breathe new life into the old play.

“When you think of the 1950s, you think of an era of innocence. And although that’s what it is on the surface, there are underlying messages,” said Kirk. “The mother in the play, for example, who appears to be the perfect 1950s housewife. She was actually fighting for women’s rights before she got married. So there’s more to her than fixing dinner and cleaning house.”

THE PRODUCERS of the play, Lynn O’Connell and Kevin O’Dowd, have worked with Kirk before. Three years ago, the threesome staged a production of “George Washington Slept Here” at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Now, having reformed their working relationship for “Visit to a Small Planet,” the team has a few tricks up their collective sleeve — including a particularly bright idea concerning the portrayal of an alien named “Delton 4.”

“Delton 4 will be unlike any alien that’s ever appeared in the show before,” said O’Connell. “So even if you’ve seen another show, this production will be totally different.”

The script was written by Gore Vidal, who is well known for his historically based novels that explore the human dimensions of American history. Yet it was written in the early 1950s, long before he began writing the critically acclaimed novels that would bring him worldwide fame and notoriety. He later rewrote the script for Broadway, and again reformatted the script for a 1960 movie starring Jerry Lewis.

“It’s a bit lighter than his other works. And even though the satire is there, it’s more of an underlying element,” said O’Connell. “The show later became the basis for the television show ‘Mork and Mindy.’”

From an alien perspective, marriage is an “ancient tribal custom” and the Civil War is a matter of endless fascination. And even if the Little Theatre production is a lighthearted, fun-filled, family-friendly night of satire, the unmistakable undertone of a world at war lurks just beneath the surface.

“It definitely has its sitcom moments,” said O’Dowd. “But it also has a lot of significance for what’s going on know in terms of not knowing who to trust and not really knowing what’s going on in the world.”