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Bears in Space

Joffrey from Game of Thrones makes his New York stage debut in a new comedy about cosmonaut bears flying through outer space.

Aaron Heffernan and Eoghan Quinn star in Bears in Space at 59E59 Theaters.
(© Idil Sukan)

In his expansive volumes of collected lyrics, Stephen Sondheim explains that one of the most important tenants of theater writing is "Content Dictates Form." At its most basic, this translates to, "Let the method of storytelling fit the story." While Sondheim is a master of musicals, this dictum doesn't apply only to shows where songs are center stage; the best works, even the straight plays, allow their premise to command the proceedings.

Such is the case with Bears in Space, a completely insane — and insanely enjoyable — comedy by Eoghan Quinn receiving its New York premiere as part of the 1st Irish Festival at 59E59 Theaters. The title sets up all you need to know: It's about bears in outer space (cosmonaut bears, to be exact). With content dictating its form, naturally, the only way to tell as story as wacky as this one is to use puppets and the bluntly disaffected humor of the millennial generation.

The title of this Collapsing Horse production, directed by Dan Colley, sets up all you need to know: There are two bears at the center of the action: Officers Volyova (puppet designer Aaron Heffernen) and Bhourgash (playwright Quinn). Sailing aboard the SS Quickfast and spending 700 years cryogenically frozen, the pair are defrosted when their shuttle starts running out of energy. If their fuel source gets too low, Volyova's beloved, Captain Lazara, will die of a mysterious illness. Landing on the planet Metrotopia, Bhourgash masks himself as the ship's Captain, only to be taken prisoner by the evil ruler, Premier Niko (Jack Gleeson, best known stateside as Joffrey on '"Game of Thrones'').

Aaron Heffernan and Jack Gleeson are in the cast of Bears in Space.
(© Idil Sukan)

It only gets weirder from there as we are introduced to more crazy characters including an omnipotent narrator (Cameron Macaulay) whose library contains every story in the universe worth telling; Niko's assistant Gorax, a Sweetums-style monster; and Skin, a gremlin whose only friend is his own voice on a tape recorder.

While the show is clearly geared toward a younger demographic, the kind of audience members who delighted in getting a little inebriated and putting up plays after-hours in college, the laughs, which defy explanation, are plentiful. It's best to say that most of them spring from sight gags within the production's hilariously DIY aesthetic, or the line readings, which get funnier and more ironically detached as the show progresses.

The chemistry of the four leading men also adds to the enjoyment; we can tell that not only are they having a ball, they take real pleasure from performing this show. To single out one would be a detriment to their strength as a company, though Game of Thrones fans will take particular delight in seeing Gleeson play a completely bonkers version of the evil king Joffrey. That their ensemble work is so exactingly perfect is a credit to Colley's direction, which takes the silly material very seriously.

It's unusual, sure, but Bears in Space is also surprisingly relatable. There's a great big heart beating at its center: a simple story about a tested friendship that must prove its strength before time runs out. Sometimes, it's better to tell the most basic of human stories with a whole lot of imagination. And bears.

Cameron McCauley completes the Bears in Space company.
(© Idil Sukan)