On Stage: An exploration of ‘Dull Space’ at Candlelight

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Cast members (left & right) Rebecca Schall
and Dan Healy and ‘Dull Space’ writer and director Brian McCole (center).

Picture a couple living together who for the last year – because of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown — have never been out of each other’s company.

Both work at home and rarely leave the safe confines of their house. They even have all their food and necessities delivered. Life together is 24/7.

It is similar to being together in a two-person spacecraft hurtling through space. There is no exit and no-one else with whom to talk.

Anyone living with this condition – or a situation even mildly similar – should be able to easily to relate to the two-person play being presented on March 26 and 27 at the Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org).

The full title of the event is “The Candlelight Theatre presents a Light Street Pictures Production ‘Dull Space — A Journey to the Very Fringe of Human Endurance,’ starring Dan Healy and Rebecca Schall — written and directed by Brian McCole.

“This is the second time we’re presenting this show,” said McCole, during a phone interview Tuesday night from his home in nearby Conshohocken. “The first time was at the Philly Fringe Festival in September 2019 and it had the same cast.

“I had never worked with Rebecca before, but I worked with Dan a number of times in shows at the Candlelight – ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ‘Camelot’ and ‘Spamalot.’

“When Dan and I first met, we hit it off immediately. We have similar tastes in movies and storytelling. He was my first call when I was casting for the Fringe show. And Rebecca – Rebecca is stunning and energetic…and available.”

Healy plays the role of Dale Darnon and Schall plays the role of Gráinne Geary.

McCole, who moved back to this area from Los Angeles in 2008, has a lot of local roots. He was born in Levittown and grew up in Ambler. After graduating from Lansdale Catholic, he got a degree in theater from Allentown College (which is now DeSales University, a school known for its excellent Shakespeare program).

“I spent a number of years living in West Hollywood and a number of years in the San Fernando Valley,” said McCole, who spent three years prior to moving to L.A. working as Big Bird at Sesame Place in Langhorne.

“I moved to L.A. in 1995 to work in the film industry. I worked in film and commercials and doing voices for video games. After a while, my time in Hollywood had run its course so I moved back to the Philly area.”

Ironically, “Dull Space” started as a film project – and will ride again as a film project.

“This is the first stage play I’ve written,” said McCole. “I’ve written a number of screen plays. This was intended to be a film – but it took on a life of its own and became a stage play.

“The inspiration came from sitting in L.A. traffic for hours at a time. The 14-mile drive between Canoga Park and Thousand Oaks takes 90 minutes and there are only two routes – the highway or a service road.”

If you’ve ever driven on L.A.’s freeways, you’ll understand his frustration – especially riding on Highway 101.

According to McCole, “The front seat of my Saturn became my cockpit. Work and home morphed into earth and the moon. The 101 Freeway was the “dull space” in between. The long, daily commute from earth to the moon gave me lots of time to ponder my dissatisfaction with most contemporary science fiction.

“Space travel in the movies and TV has no “challenge” anymore. If someone wants to go to space, they just hop into the ship and go there, like driving to the shore. If someone wants to travel faster-than-light, they simply “spin up the FTL,” or “activate the hyperdrive,” or “engage the warp engines.”

“While traveling from one star system to another, “the shields” protect the ship from the Oort cloud and any other particles that would tear a ship to pieces in interstellar space. Science Fiction doesn’t address the danger of simply going into space anymore.

“I wanted to try to take an honest, realistic look at the near-future of human spaceflight, infused with honest, realistic human drama. I wanted to translate my day-to-day frustrations into the day-to-day frustrations of those who will occupy or escape this world after we are gone. I wanted to create “slice-of-life” science fiction.

“As ‘Dull Space’ began to write itself, I realized it was no longer a story about frustration, but about basic human love and the need to be understood. We interact with so many people each day based upon our preconceptions of them, and they do the same to us.

“So often, our first impressions are wrong. ‘Dull Space’ began as a simple science fiction exercise, but it is really about people’s need to be understood.

“The characters of Darnon and Geary have gone through many revisions over the years, often to fit the personae of the people who have come through my life. I wanted to show that people are seldom what our preconceptions lead us to expect. We may meet someone whose first impression puts us off, but we don’t know what he or she is going through in that moment.”

McCole was involved on yet another level at the beginning.

“When I first started writing it, I wrote it for myself and a friend,” said McCole, who has been The Rock School for Dance Education’s Production Manager for more than 12 years.121/2 years.

“The characters evolved. I did a reading of the screenplay in 2012 at The Rock School West in West Chester. I had Brian Anthony Wilson with me. I had to write this role for him.

“I had it planned for more than two people – multiple characters with different scenes and settings. But money was a problem so I changed it to two characters – a Tennessee redneck and an Irish girl.”

Here is an edited version of the story’s “long synopsis” —

Roughly 100 years in the future, we find ourselves in the cockpit of Bonnie Davine, a privately-owned spacecraft on its way to the Moon. The pilot is Darnon, a middle-aged, veteran astronaut who grew up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The passenger is Geary, a young, pretty Irish woman who is an employee of the EU government’s lunar colony.

We open with Geary gushing about her excitement to be traveling into space for the first time, but she quickly realizes her host has been asleep the entire time. A control panel starts beeping 15 hours into a 17-hour flight, and Darnon jolts himself awake. Geary is concerned, but Darnon reveals it is just some of the mundane communication intrinsic to space travel.

Darnon and Geary have an immediate clash of personalities arising from misunderstanding of culture, and Darnon’s seeming lack of hospitality. The stage is set for tense-yet-humorous banter involving music, language, and Darnon’s fatigue and pessimism about the purpose and future of space travel.

Geary asks him why he does it if he hates it so much. He responds with his impressive educational and career resume, which surprises Geary greatly. Darnon responds in-kind by inquiring about Geary’s linguistic abilities. Responding in a series of phrases in a dozen languages, Geary reveals that she is a polyglot and professional translator for the EU.

A well-intentioned but insensitive reply from Darnon compels Geary to reveal that her father has recently died, and Darnon understands that her abrasiveness comes from a place of emotional anguish. Darnon apologizes, and he and Geary begin, at last, to have an understanding of each other.

Communication from a traffic control center informs Darnon of some space debris along Bonnie Davine’s trajectory. An unseen piece of debris crashes against the hull. The cabin lurches violently. ALARMS start beeping all around the control panel. Systems rapidly fail, and Bonnie Davine loses communications. Darnon quickly determines that they do not have enough velocity to reach their destination, so they will have to make a crash landing on the Dark Side of the Moon.

Hours later, Bonnie Davine skids into the lunar surface. Geary and Darnon survive the crash landing. Darnon informs Geary that they will be safest in the cabin waiting for rescue.

After a while, Geary awakens gasping for air. Darnon discovers her O2 supply has been damaged, and she is going to die. Without telling her why, he exchanges their supplies.

Darnon is out of oxygen. Geary quickly realizes what he has done. She is incredibly sad and does not know how to thank him. He tells her she has lots to live for and tells her to live for it. Darnon knows he’s about to die and tells Geary to “Keep breathing.” They embrace, and Darnon dies in Geary’s arms.

McCole talked of the challenges for this weekend’s productions.

“One challenge was to get Dan to learn all the techno-babble,” said McCole, who returned to acting after a 10-year hiatus in 2014, playing “The Constable” in The Candlelight Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“Another was teaching Rebecca how to speak Irish Gaelic. I studied Gaelic for two years at the Celtic Arts Center of Los Angeles. I had to write phonetic pronunciations for her.”

Schall, in her role as an EU translator, also had to learn to say phrases in a wide variety of languages including German, Arabic, Spanish, Danish, Japanese, Italian, Farsi, Norwegian and Chinese.

“The next step now is making it into a motion picture,” said McCole. “We’ll start shooting in August.”

“Dull Space” on the surface is a story about an unsuccessful journey into space. Underneath, it is a story about the day-to-day need each of us has to be understood — and the need each of us has to love.

Somehow, it would be fitting at the end for Geary to teach Darnon some Gaelic – teach him how to say, “Gra Go Deo, Mo anam cara” (Love forever, my soulmate) — and then say to him, “Slán agus beannacht leat. Tá grá agam duit!” (Goodbye and blessings to you. I love you!).

The show will also feature an opening act. Veteran Candlelight Theatre actor Anthony Connell will give a reading of Edgar’ Allen Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart.”

Video link for “Dull Space” — https://youtu.be/7jMYJxNi-S4.

Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. on both March 26 and 27. Tickets are $20. A cash bar is provided, and table snacks are included. Free parking is available adjacent to the theater.

When it comes to presenting options to hear live music, the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) has been a beacon in a pandemic-created thick-as-pea-soup fog.

The comfortable theater in Bucks County has a variety of shows scheduled for this month including Tim Farrell on March 26, Jawn Of The Dead on March 27, and Ben O’Neill on March 30.

Tim Farrell

Farrell is an accomplished musician who wears many hats – performer, composer, recording artist and educator.

As a performer and composer, Farrell is known for the elegant simplicity he displays in his fingerstyle playing and original compositions. It is a simplicity that celebrates the purity of the acoustic guitar.

As a recording artist, Farrell has the rare ability to inspire listeners to experience music on a multitude of levels. Through his mastery of the intricacies and melodic grace of fingerstyle guitar, he has created a sound that evokes emotion — a sound that is to be felt as well as heard.

“I started guitar lessons as a kid,” said Farrell, during a phone interview last week from his home in Bucks County.

“I jammed with friends on rock tunes and eventually got into progressive rock.

“I was playing electric guitar with my friends – playing songs by the Sones and Neil Young. Then, we started creating our own thing.

“In college, I studied jazz guitar initially. I hadn’t really listened to jazz guitar before that. I was more into progressive bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd – and some jazz rock. I also listened to some Dave Brubeck.”

Farrell, who was born in Philadelphia, grew up in Bucks County and graduated from Council Rock High, also became a talented piano player.

“There was a time when I was playing both guitar and piano,” said Farrell, who is one of only four artists to be honored as of the 100 Greatest Acoustic Guitarists who have also won Best Instrumental in the International Acoustic Music Awards.

“I was playing old piano standards at cocktail hours. Then I decided I wanted to study classical guitar.

“Later in college was when I switched to classical guitar. That really opened my eyes to a whole different approach – melody, chords and bass all together.

“It progressed from there and evolved into the fingerstyle stuff I do now. Without classical training, I wouldn’t have the versatility.”

It was a natural evolution for Farrell.

“I always played steel-stringed guitar,” said Farrell, who has performed worldwide at concert venues such as the Kimmel Center, Montreal Jazz Festival, Carnegie Center, Hard Rock Live, and Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“I was listening to classical players like Segovia, John Williams, Julian Bream and, of course, Leo Kottke. I got more into fingerpicking. It just evolved that way. I got more known for fingerpicking style and it took over.”

Farrell has released five albums – “Very” in 1995, “SkyDancer” in 1998, “Songs from Clarowood” in 2001, “CODAS” in 2010 and “Cascadia” in 2014. He also released a Christmas album, “The Gifts of the Season” and “BONUS,” a digital only release of songs that were previously available on two different limited release EPs.

As a guest educator at various institutions and events, Farrell conducts workshops, seminars, and residency activities. His activities as an educator have included programs for Woodstock Invitational Luthiers’ Showcase, U.S. Navy, Newport Guitar Festival, Montreal Guitar Show, The Midland Theater, Healdsburg Guitar Festival and Memphis Guitar Festival.

Farrell is also a distinguished faculty member of The Conservatory in Doylestown. He is the Artistic Director of the Stretched Strings Concert and Workshop Series there and also provides private lessons and conducts interactive workshops in “Fingerstyle Guitar, Arranging and Composition.”

Video link for Tim Farrell — https://youtu.be/kidQgelWqdc

The show on March 26 will start at 8 p.m. and will also be available online via Livestream. Tickets for the theater are $19.50 and $29.50. Livestream tickets are $10. 

Jawn Of The Dead is a Philly band centered around the nucleus of guitarists/vocalists Rich Hill and Jim Tauscher. The Grateful Dead tribute band just celebrated a milestone event for a young music act – its second anniversary.

Jawn Of The Dead

“We started on March 20, 2019,” said Hill, during a phone interview last week from his home in nearby Ridley Park.

“It was supposed to be a one-off show at The Fainting Goat in Glenolden. I play there once a month with my bar band so I asked if I could do a (Grateful Dead) show. I invited some musician friends to get together to play Dead stuff. I took people from different bands and we rehearsed 30-40 songs.

“We showed up at the club with our gear and the place was packed. Deadheads from around the area got the word and showed up.

“After we played the second set, people were coming up to us saying that they loved it. I said to the guys – I think we have a ‘thing.’ They said — yeah, we do have a ‘thing.’ We didn’t have a name, so we came up with Jawn Of The Dead.”

Time out here for a Philadelphia based etymology lesson.

If you live more than 35-40 miles from Philly, you might not have ever heard the word “jawn.”

“Jawn” is a slang term local to Philadelphia and its metropolitan area. “Jawn” is a context-dependent substitute noun, meaning it is a noun that substitutes for any other noun – and it can be singular or plural.

“Jawn” is a word loved by Philly residents. Because it has no specific meaning, it can be used to mean all sorts of things. One of the only points on which everyone can agree is that “jawn” is a noun – and that now it is part of the name of a Philly area band.

Lesson over!

“We played a handful of shows from March through August 2019,” said Hill, who grew up South Philadelphia and graduated from Neumann High. “Then, we got a call from the World Café Live about its Tuesday Dead Jam. One of the bands canceled and they asked us to play.

“The audience liked it. We kept the band going – playing a few places around Philly. Last February, we played the Boot and Saddle. We figured that if we got 50 people, it would be a good start. We got 170.

“We were just getting started and then we had to shut down because of COVID-19. We played some private events in the summer and then started to play at 118 North in Wayne. We also did a Livestream show from the Kennett Flash.”

Billing themselves as “an energetic tribute to the mystique and musical mayhem of The Grateful Dead,” Jawn Of The Dead posted this message on its website – “The dedication of the band to both the songs of the Grateful Dead and their spirit of musical exploration sets JOTD apart.”

“We’re not a tribute band in the sense that we’re trying to be the people in the Dead,” said Hill, who was a music major at West Chester University.

“Our commitment is to excellence – to playing the music well and to also honor the songwriting. We play a whole catalog of Dead songs along with cover songs the Dead played.”

Jawn Of The Dead have been champing at the bit to play before a live audience for a long time.

“This is our first ticketed event since the Boot and Saddle show in February 2020 — and it’s our first time to play the Sellersville Theater” said Hill.

“I’ve played there before as part of the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret. It has great sound and is a great environment. We’re all looking forward to our show there.”

Jawn Of The Dead has already become a favorite of Philly area Deadheads so the band must be doing something right.

Hill and his mates aren’t looking to conquer the world. Right now, they’re happy just “Playing in the Band.”

Video link for Jawn of the Dead – https://youtu.be/p6qxYa6p20o.

The show on March 27 will start at 8 p.m. and will also be available online via Livestream. Tickets for the theater are $19.50 and $29.50. Livestream tickets are $10. 

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