Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Jay Weitz, Columbus Alive
Matt Slaybaugh photo

"How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" borrows the constructs of sci-fi to tell the story of a young man trying to come to terms with his relationship with his parents, who are not really a part of his life anymore. Adapted for the stage by Jennifer Fawcett and Matt Slaybaugh from Charles Yu's 2010 novel of the same name, the play features a protagonist named Charles who is a time machine repairman.

Available Light Theatre's one-man show features actor Ian Short, who can make nonsensical-sounding phraseology such as "Novikovian self-consistency" sound as natural and mellifluous as Dr. Seuss could. The fact that "Novikovian self-consistency" happens to be a real principle that solved a problem within the theory of general relativity merely adds to the delight.

As it happens, that principle can be boiled down to one of Yu's main themes, "You can't change the past." With his Tense Operator set to "Present-Inde?nite," Charles finds his mother in a time loop, reliving an idealized hour of cooking with the family. And he pursues his elusive father throughout Minor Universe 31.

Along the way, Charles realizes poignant truths about self and time: that everyone and everything is a time machine, turning pain into experience into knowledge into memory. And he learns that the process is irreversible. Under the nimble direction of Slaybaugh and complete with clever video and voice recordings and set design, "How to Live Safely" is comic food for thought, a safe bet for time well spent.

Columbus Performing Arts Center

Through Nov. 26

549 Franklin Ave., Downtown