Getting a buzz from history

Wednesday, June 19, 1991

By Rod Webb

Buzz
By Warren Coleman and Tyler Coppin
Directed by Tyler Coppin
Designed by Brian Thomson and Ross Wallace
With Warren Coleman and Tyler Coppin
Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, until July 7.
Reviewed by Rod Webb

Back in 1969 it was hard to dismiss completely the lunar landing as an act of folly. One had at least to acknowledge the incredible technical achievement and pay tribute to the immense human effort involved. The astronauts were, at the very least, fine examples of human beings trained to the peak of physical and mental fitness.

Twenty-two years later, it all looks rather silly, especially when New York can't afford to house its homeless or even open the beach at which its citizens are accustomed to bathing in the hot summer months.

The metaphorical — if not the physical — centrepiece of the Buzz stage is not, as one might expect, the mechanical evidence of the Eagle landing, but the eternal footprints left by that "giant leap for mankind". There's a begrudging reverence in the rough circle of rocks that Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin has fashioned round the footprints like some ancient cairn.

They're a constant reminder to Buzz that he was the second man on the moon. It matters less that he's survived there for 22 years more than Neil Armstrong: Armstrong was first, and that's what counts. There's no room for losers at Trout Lake, says the haunting memory of his military father reminding Buzz of his days at youth camp.

If the moon landing was exploited then as a symbol of the greatness of the USA, Coppin and Coleman now gleefully milk it as a symbol of the country's continued inability to deliver on the American Dream. It's a terrific idea, realised with considerable wit and deftness.

Visitations from the past can be a handy means of commenting on a society's development, or lack of it, and a timely reminder of how yesterday's heroes are so readily dumped. And this Buzz is well and truly left behind, originally by the accidental ignition of the return craft while he's still gathering rocks on the lunar surface, and lately by a broke and beleaguered NASA, which just doesn't have the same Congressional clout any more.

The man at Houston Control assures Buzz they're doing all they can to get him back. But the man wouldn't know, since he's new at the station and they've been saying that for 22 years. Meanwhile, wasn't it lucky Neil left the camera behind so Buzz can maintain

contact with the world by fronting a live-from-the-moon tonight show on World Channel?

In the early days the show rated 25; now it's down to 4.5, which means more trouble for NASA. And we all know what happens when a show loses ratings ...

Staging, lighting and sound engineering are perfect. Coleman and Coppin give excellent performances as the stranded astronaut and the (slightly) troubled plug-puller, the latter ingeniously lit behind a transparent disc decorated with the earth's surface, which makes him look like the figure in a glass paperweight: as much a prisoner as Buzz.

It's no real disservice to suggest the script needs more work. There's already plenty to enjoy and think about, but a measure of the brilliance and originality of the idea is the certainty that there are many more laughs and insights to be wrought from it in time. And time is something Coleman and Coppin deserve, because the Belvoir Street premiere should be but the first of many opportunities for this little gem.

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