September 24, 2019

Written in the Stars: Erin Mallon ’02’s Play Pale Blue Dot(s) Premieres at Adelphi

Pale Blue Dot(s) Set
Music from the ’80s blasts through the sound system of the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center Rehearsal Room on an early evening in late August as a small group of students runs through warm-up exercises, laughing through the physical interactions. One is wearing a NASA tee shirt; two others have David Bowie’s image emblazoned on their tees.

They’re called to order and Pale Blue Dot(s) playwright Erin Mallon ’02 greets them for the first time since they auditioned for their roles. “It felt like seeing rock stars in person,” she tells them about their previous meeting. “I’ve been thinking about all of you for months.”

Mallon hasn’t just been thinking about them. She’s been tailoring the characters in her play—the first ever commissioned by Adelphi’s Department of Theatre—to fit the seven actors chosen for the Spirit Weekend production. The tailoring wasn’t just playing to their strengths, however. She developed the script with the heart of someone who’d trained and worked as an actor herself.

“I asked the actors, ‘What don’t you usually get to play? What don’t people think you can do?'” she said in an interview after the first rehearsal.

The scenes they’ll be playing are set in a near future in which the International Space Station is staffed by an all-female crew reluctantly hosting a pair of women who won an Elon Musk–sponsored vacation in space. The production also includes, at its more existential moments, cameos by God and David Bowie.

For tonight, it’s just a read-through. They’re sitting at three large tables, along with the crew who will bring the production to life. Accents are optional, although junior Mishka Rehak, cast as a Russian cosmonaut, brings her A game. Senior Robert Kelly, portraying a ground controller at Mission Control, asks if r’s should be hard or soft in his adopted Texan accent.

“I think that’s for you to discover,” Mallon replies.

An actor’s playwright

Mallon’s openness with the cast probably has something to do with her own background as an actor. When she was a student at Adelphi, she was Associate Professor Margaret Lally ’82’s go-to (“I would call her when other students didn’t work out,” said Lally) and pursued acting after she graduated. Mallon continued to act, as well as doing voice work and recording audiobooks, but her interest slowly drifted toward writing, and slowly drifted skyward.

“I’ve had the obsession with space for a very long time,” she said. “It keeps popping up in my plays in different ways.”

When Lally contacted her in the spring with the offer of a small commission for an original work, the stage, so to speak, was set. “I hung up and my brain started going,” said Mallon. “I thought, ‘This is my space play.'”

On stage in outer space

It’s a story of “inspiration, joy and wonder,” according to Lally, who is directing the show and worked closely with Mallon in developing the project.

The cast and crew have been “diving in and working together to tell a beautiful story,” Lally said, and the students have even been working with Orion Duckstein, associate professor and chair of Adelphi’s dance department, to learn how to portray weightlessness on stage.

“The stage has been created to be like a jungle gym for them,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for them to really explore the embodiment of these characters and play in the space,” Lally said.

But while the cast of characters may be floating in a tin can, Mallon says it’s really a play about life on Earth. Even the title reflects back on our lives on the planet, borrowing from a quote by famed astronomer Carl Sagan: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known,” he wrote in 1994.

“I think, ideally, this play wants to be a love letter to the Earth,” Mallon said. “We’re all on this ball floating in darkness and many of the things we dwell on aren’t important.”


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