Theater preview: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Heather Gross, Columbus Alive
Matt Slaybaugh photo

Say you have a time machine. Where and when would you choose to visit? When he's not working, time machine repairman Charles Yu tends to prefer resting in a small corner of the universe where nothing ever happens. (Personally, I'd zip over to 1920s Paris.)

Yu, the main character in Available Light Theatre's adaptation of the zany novel "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" by Charles Yu, seems fairly content to be isolated in his little machine, encountering other human beings only when he's on the clock. But he realizes at a certain point that he regrets leaving his normal life behind.

"It's a quirky science fiction story but at the heart of it, it has a great family story about relationships and loneliness," said Matt Slaybaugh, Available Light's artistic director, who co-wrote the stage adaptation with playwright Jennifer Fawcett.

Available Light's production is a one-man show, but actor Ian Short isn't really alone on stage. There are about 10 other characters that are portrayed by recordings on the set's 11 video screens. Yu interacts regularly with TAMMY, the time machine's computer that has self-esteem issues, as well as Ed, a stray dog he rescued that may or may not exist. The high-tech set was funded using donations raised on - including a contribution from the novel's author.

Just because the show deals with the idea of regret doesn't mean it isn't a comedy.

"He has you laughing, and he has this strange terminology and sense of humor to get at the issues of regret," Slaybaugh said of Yu the author. The main character, for example, at one point encounters Linus Skywalker, the disgruntled little son of Luke. And because some of the technology acts like humans, you may find that a computer program reminds you of people you know.

But the laughter is not without some soul searching. No matter during what time you're living, some of the issues we struggle with as humans are the same.

"The big take-away for everybody and for the character as well is that idea of living in the present moment and becoming more deeply engaged with your own life," Slaybaugh said.

Columbus Performing Arts Center

Nov. 10-19

549 Franklin Ave., Downtown