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Hollywood Fringe 2024: Revenge of the Space Pandas

Some plays present obstacles so great that no production can overcome them, and in that category we would place Revenge of the Space Pandas, or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock. A lesser work from David Mamet (Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Glengarry Glen Ross), the 1978 sci-fi fantasy enjoys ongoing popularity among acting companies who need something written for young performers; unfortunately, the text sounds like the work of a major talent who thinks that slumming in a popular genre is an easy way to reach a wider audience, like a string quartet trying to do disco (weirdly, this seems not to be the actual case; Mamet has called Space Pandas his favorite play). Revenge of the Space Pandas is meant to be fun for the whole family: its plot is wild but not very engaging; its tone is comical but not very funny.

Currently performing at Hollywood Fringe Festival, the cast and crew of Banzerini House (a non-profit production company from Arizona) make an estimable effort at bringing Revenge of the Space Pandas to life: the people involved clearly have talent, but it is wasted on this particular play. In fact, our feelings mirror those of Drew Eberhard, reviewing a 2023 production: “The fault here doesn’t lie with the performers or producing company, but rather the work itself. Imagine if you will, the 1960s. Mamet’s young audience train-wreck is much like that of a terrible episode of H.R. Pufnstuf. As a matter of fact that is all that one can regale this script to be, an afternoon kids special gone horribly wrong.”

Aspiring scientist Binky Rudich has found a two-speed clock; if he gets it working, it will slow down time, sending him and his two friends (including a talking sheep named Bob) spinning off planet Earth and onto some far away galaxy. He succeeds, landing the trio on planet Crestview, where most of the inhabitants seem to be talking pandas, and no one has seen a sheep for thousands of years. This is a plot point: Crestview’s ruler George Topax would really like to own the only wool sweeter in his galaxy, so he plans to capture Bob the Sheep, sheer his wool, and then kill him so that no one else can have a sweater. This results in a lot chasing around, and in the manner of sci-fi minions, most of them are not very good at capturing the Earthlings until the plot demands that the characters get stuck in a dangerous situation.

Revenge of Space Pandas 2024
In a highlight of the show, the cast steps into the audience to shoot a live interview with the captured Earthlings, projected on a screen behind the stage.

The few enjoyable moments in this production belong mostly to the cast, who definitely seem to be having fun with the story’s absurd situations. For some reason, Binky’s friend Vivian Mooster seems to be really good at fighting off Space Pandas – something we just have to take for granted because it’s fun. At one point the fugitives receive help from the has-been star of a movie called Revenge of the Space Pandas (as Cinema Sins would say, “Roll Credits!”), who employs some enjoyably hammy theatrics to fool Topax’s minions.

Best of all, when Binky and Vivian are captured, they are interviewed on live television, which is achieved in this production by giving the actors a real video camera and sending them into the audience, who serve as background extras. The cameraman is deliberately wobbly, his lens wandering away from the interview subjects to focus on the embarrassed theatregoers sitting next to them. The whole thing is broadcast onto a large screen behind the stage, and it’s hard to say which is funnier: watching the action directly or watching the screen.

So, the cast and crew do their best, but in the end we just don’t like Mamet’s play very much. His one good joke comes when Binky hears his wanted description being broadcast. Its level of detail is absurdly precise and largely irrelevant to making an accurate identification of the wanted fugitive, noting that he is wearing a Chicago White Sox baseball cap and explaining, “Baseball is a game played on Earth, and the White Sox have not had a team worth talking about since 1959.” That’s funny but not enough to redeem the rest of the text. Hopefully, Banzerini House will find a better one if they ever return to Fringe Fest.


Rating Scale

1 – Poor
2 – Mediocre
3 – Good
4 – Great
5 – Excellent

Maybe it’s just us: Revenge of the Space Pandas have been favorably reviewed in the past, but we found the dialogue and story so unfunny that we could not enjoy this production in spite of the diligent efforts on stage. Therefore, we are giving the show our lowest rating, with the understanding that it applies to Mamet’s play, not to the cast and crew.

Revenge of the Space Pandas concludes its run at Hollywood Fringe Fest with a final performance on Sunday June 30 at noon in the Actors Company Let Live Theatre, 916 N.Formosa Avenue. Get more information here.

Credits: Produced by Banzerini House.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.