Review: Water Bears in Space

By Wendy Rosenfield

PuppeTyranny’s Water Bears in Space, written and directed by Candra Kennedy (writer of the 2009 Fringe Fest hit Rails), may not be the strangest Fringe show I’ve ever seen, but it at least makes the top three. WBIS is based loosely (very loosely) on the 2008 TARDIS experiment, which asked, quite reasonably, “Why should we send dry aquatic invertebrates into space?” 

Kennedy takes that question a few steps farther, asking “What if a trio of tardigrade--or water bear, or moss piglet--siblings set out on a quest to find their lost pet amoeba, and as part of a mad scientist’s revenge plot, they ended up on a space shuttle with a more carnivorous variety of tardigrade, who also happens to have anger issues and some gender confusion?” What if, indeed.

If you’ve let your subscription to Scientific American lapse, tardigrades are microscopic organisms that live on moss, and can survive extreme dessication and fluctuations in temperature. They were guests on the shuttle Endeavor’s final flight, and returned unharmed, but what really happened out there, you know? Assisted by the four-piece live band Upholstery, a no-hold-barred Bette Davis-inspired performance by Kate Black-Regan as unhinged, unthumbed Dr. Felicia Hyde, and a team of seriously committed puppeteers who wiggle those eight-legged dryer vent hose-looking critters so charmingly we forget they’re probably made out of dryer vent hose, we learn the whole, horrible truth, and ultimately, a bit about ourselves. I swear.

Could the show lose about fifteen minutes and survive? Sure. But then they wouldn’t give out “Moss Piglet Rum Punch” at intermission, and you might also lose the bacteria chorus and human-sized thumb dance. Some risks are just too great, even in the name of science, and especially in the name of weird science. 

$10. Sept. 12, 14, 15, 16, 7 p.m. Circle of Hope, 1125 S. Broad St.