Mr. Spock likely would have raised an eyebrow and proclaimed the latest play from the Portland Stage “fascinating.”

Directed by Kevin R. Free, Greg Lam’s “Last Ship to Proxima Centauri,” in its world premiere onstage production, zips issues of immigration, race, gender, ethnicity, genetics, demographics, history, politics and economics, to name just a few, into space suits for a dark comedy set in a not-so-appealing future.  There’s definitely a lot to think about in this highly imaginative and sometimes quite biting work.

The titular ship is one of several launched on a mission to save thousands of humans from a planet Earth that’s no longer inhabitable. Rotating crews, who are otherwise suspended in a life-extending “stasis,” take the con as millennia pass. After an unexpected delay, the last ship gets a signal from planet Proxima Centauri, and the two on-duty crew members celebrate madly.

Not so fast. In author Lam’s Clauder Competition-winning creation, the current inhabitants of the planet have several rather probing questions they’d like to ask before their “committee” decides if the new arrivals will be welcomed. For example, why is this ship from America populated mostly by privileged white people while the new world of Proxima Centauri is in the hands of people who came from more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds?

Who takes on the role of “outsiders” in this new world? The planetary tables have been turned. But is the new order on Proxima any better? The author relentlessly pulls on these threads while the action of a hard landing on a distant planet plays out.

Veteran actors Tom Ford and Marcy McGuigan play the initially elated crew who don’t hold up so well as they learn that their new home threatens to reject them. Both effectively establish lively characters whose mettle will be severely tested. McGuigan’s character in particular undergoes a touching roller-coaster ride of emotions while her partner rages.


Kennedy Kanagawa and Jamal James as Henry Hirano and Tunde.

The astronauts revive a Japanese American stowaway who they think will help them negotiate with the Proxima officials. In that role, Kennedy Kanagawa provides a good deal of the comedy for the play through his character’s dry asides relating to his own heritage and his take on a not-so-trustworthy America he left behind.

Speaking Mandarin Chinese, the official language of Proxima (supertitles translate), as well as several other languages, citizens Tunde and Paz come aboard after the crew executes an unauthorized crash landing on the planet. Both strong characters enliven the particularly compelling second act.

Tunde is an initially affable interrogator, loving old American TV shows and dancing crazily to a song about his cultural past. But he has a more serious understanding of the potential threat posed by the newcomers. Jamal James mixes this character’s ruling committee-approved critique of American history with a resonant baritone delivery that occasionally breaks into an ambiguous laugh.

Octavia Chavez-Richmond’s tough Paz is less willing to entertain an alternative point of view in a performance that has her flitting about the stage, ready to pounce. She knows her way around a gun and only briefly, mistakenly, softens.

The set by Germán Cárdenas-Alaminos expands from the initial drab and claustrophobic bridge of the ship to a broader landscape in the second act. A colorful, if unsettling, backdrop inspired by the work of artist Yayoi Kusama is a highlight. The costumes by Haydee Zelideth, particularly those worn by characters Tunde and Paz, also suggest alternate worlds of experience.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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