Twisted History From An Inferior Planet

Karen Ponzio was really digging in to her role—a villain by the name of Can-I-be-anymore Sinister. Tossing her head back, she became sassy and sarcastic as she demanded a press conference to stroke her ego and celebrate her evil works.

That was my cue. Popping up from my seat, I made a one-line cameo as a reporter from The Arts Paper: “Ms. Sinister, who are you wearing this evening?”

Friday evening, this delightfully campy scene was part of “Inferior Planet,” a radio-style Sci-Fi comedy-drama performed on the second Friday of every month at Koffee? on Audubon Street. The next performance is on Sept. 14 at Koffee? and will include comedians and musical acts in addition to the live “radio” show. Admission is free, and audience members are encouraged to get a coffee or snack to enjoy while they watch.

Ken Carlson is the writer, producer, and director of this multi-hyphenate production, in which he also acts. New Haveners Tina Carlson, Steve Cappelle, Willetta Cappelle, Karen Ponzio, and Jenna Vollono round out the ensemble cast.

Inferior Planet is a classic throwback to 1940s radio dramas, complete with station breaks and fake commercials. Presented like a staged reading, each monthly installment is a stand-alone episode operating under the same premise: earth’s history reconstructed from a misguided, far-future perspective.

In an interview after Friday’s performance, Carlson said his goal in writing Inferior Planet is to incorporate different aspects of science fiction like time-travel and dystopia, while drawing on influences like Monty Python and Douglas’ Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which he calls the root of comedy in science fiction. The emphasis on audio makes the show a natural for podcast adaptation, and the team hopes to produce one in the future.

Carlson originally read the script for Inferior Planet at “Chapter and Verse,” Koffee?’s monthly local literature night. He then decided to expand it to a full cast performance this June. Carlson says he likes to work with a cast that isn’t afraid to improvise and really ham it up. He has the flexibility to write in guest actors at the last minute and the charm to convince them to participate—not that it took much convincing in this reporter’s case.

Throughout the show, the cast cycled through a collection of silly characters, and the script bounced from style to style in madcap fashion, with zany references to freelance cat therapists and Meredith Baxter Birney. At one point, real-life husband and wife Ken and Tina Carlson were secret lovers in a passionate soap opera on a cramped and filthy 16th -century sailing ship.

Just a few minutes later, the lost colonists of Roanoke, Vir. were doing reality-show-style confessionals. As they ranted about a fellow settler with sticky fingers and rambled on about their hippy-dippy craft projects, vintage episodes of Survivor and The Real World came readily to mind.

That’s the fun of it: a show like this requires just a bit more from the audience. Viewers—or, rather, listeners—have to pay attention to the words, soak them up and paint the mental imagery themselves. But there’s a magic to it, like being read to aloud. Or in Carlson’s words, “it’s lighthearted and it’s a good time.”