Judith Merril's science
ARTWORD THEATRE TACKLES SCIENCE FICTION BY JUDITH MERRIL
Artword Theatre's first major
production of the fall 1997 season was a classic of science fiction,
"Whoever You Are", based on a story by Judith Merril, the renowned
science fiction author and anthologist. Scripted and directed by
Ronald Weihs, artistic director of Artword Theatre, the play runs
from November 11 to November 30, 1997 at Artword Theatre, 81 Portland
Written in 1952, "Whoever You Are" was Judith Merril's answer to the "Fortress America" paranoia at the beginning of the cold war, and her protest against the emotional and sexual repression that fueled it. Although the lines today are less sharply drawn, fear of the alien is as prevalent today as it was then.
The play's premise is simple. The human race has built a web around the Solar System that traps alien life forms. A SolSys scout ship returns with aliens aboard and is caught in the web. When a young recruit boards the ship and investigates, it becomes evident that the aliens have what may be an irresistible weapon: they love everybody.
Do we dare let them in? On Phobos (one of the moons of Mars), three people must decide what action to take: two men, a military commander and a psychologist, and one woman, the public information officer.
The play is staged using an elaborate set representing the captured scout ship, a scanner-satellite at the edge of the solar system and a futuristic meeting-room at Phobos Base. The scout ship is a complex grid of steel, allowing the actor playing the young recruit to move in a three-dimensional "space-dance" to music created by Eugene Martynec and Geordie McDonald, both well known Canadian new music composers. The production also makes extensive use of digitized video.
Like most of Judith Merril's work,
"Whoever You Are" has fun with the science fiction setting, but uses
it to make some serious points. Merril had a major influence on
science fiction as one of the main voices for more human themes and
complex issues. In her own fiction, and in a series of key
anthologies, she championed the position that Science Fiction was
about exploring alternative realities.
She contrasted Science Fiction, with its legitimate abbreviation "SF", with the space shoot-em-up genre "Sci Fi" (or as she pronounced it, "skiffy"). (Merril herself preferred the term "Speculative Fiction" for the SF variety.)
Judith Merril died recently on September 12th, when the project to put "Whoever You Are" on the stage was well underway. Just before she went to the hospital, she read a draft of the script. Her most significant comment was that the play must convey the sense of inward-looking paranoia, fear and sexual repressiveness that underlies nationalism and xenophobia.
Judith Merril was a strong supporter of Artword Theatre, and a personal friend of Ronald Weihs, the artistic director, and Judith Sandiford, the Managing Director. The inaugural performance at Artword in November, 1994, featured Judith Merril reading from her memoirs and jazzman John T. Davis. Judith's granddaughter, Emily Pohl-Weary, who worked at Artword, is editing Judith's memoirs for publication.