Arts & Theater

Mondavi again goes ‘Intergalactic’

Five performers enliven “The Intergalactic Nemesis: Robot Planet Rising,” which will be staged March 4 at UC Davis.
Five performers enliven “The Intergalactic Nemesis: Robot Planet Rising,” which will be staged March 4 at UC Davis. Mondavi Center

Attention all fanboys and girls of science fiction, fantasy adventure and anything pulp: Robots are among us, and resistance is futile.

Austin, Texas, live-action graphic novel project “The Intergalactic Nemesis” returns to UC Davis’ Mondavi Center on March 4 to perform “Robot Planet Rising,” the second installment of its interstellar trilogy as part of a nine-month, nationwide tour.

So what, exactly, is a live-action graphic novel?

Imagine your favorite graphic novels – “Watchmen,” “Sin City,” maybe even “The Dark Knight Returns” – and their comic-book panel drawings coming to life on a giant screen (without the word bubbles), with live actors, a live musician and a sound-effects artist conjuring up worlds you previously had only read about.

In the case of “The Intergalactic Nemesis,” audiences are immersed in the multimedia, action-packed story of ace reporter Molly Sloan and her many galaxy-jumping journeys. As she follows each new scoop through space, time and alien planets, Molly finds herself trying to save Earth from a handful of foes with the help of her sidekick, Timmy Mendez, as well as a mysterious time traveler and a few loyal robot friends.

Having successfully executed “Target Earth” – the first book of the series – last season, Jeremy Ganter, Mondavi Center’s associate executive director and director of programming, said that he and his colleagues were more than happy to sign the “Intergalactic” team up for another mission.

“We brought ‘The Intergalactic Nemesis’ to the area for the first time last season because we felt their unique mashup of graphic novels and radio drama would resonate with a new audience for us,” Ganter said in an email. “We were right, and we want to keep serving that demand by bringing these creative minds back for a second round of interstellar hijinks.”

“Intergalactic” features three voice actors on stage speaking into retro-looking microphones. “Robot” stars Rachel Landon, Brock England and Chris Gibson, who portray up to 20 characters each on any given night. Musician Harlan Hodges plays a live score on piano, and Foley artist Kelly Matthews manages the sound effects, which range from oncoming trains to footsteps in the snow.

A massive screen serves as the backdrop for the five performers, and comic-book-looking panels are sequentially projected, almost like an animated film.

“Intergalactic’s” co-creator and director/producer, Jason Neulander, says people will often compliment him on just how cinematic the show feels. “Kids will come up to us and tell us it’s their favorite movie they’ve ever seen,” he says.

Neulander said he grew up on classic adventure films such as “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and figured “Intergalactic” was his chance to do a “Star Wars”-esque story – albeit on a smaller scale and budget.

That vision has since become a successful enterprise. “Intergalactic,” Neulander says, originally found a cult following in Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts, but that it wasn’t until it became a traveling production that it enjoyed mainstream recognition, with coverage from The New York Times, NPR and even an appearance on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” a few years ago.

“What we’re doing here, as far as I can tell, is pretty much a one-of-a-kind,” Neulander says. “When the visuals and the acting and the sound effects and the music are all coming together seamlessly, I think it’s kind of a tour de force. I hear a lot from people like, ‘How did you time all that together?’”

As the trilogy’s middle segment, “Robot Planet Rising,” Neulander says, is “The Empire Strikes Back” of his series, but audiences can come to it without having seen “Book One: Target Earth” and still pick up the backstory. (Or it can be seen live at The Center for the Arts, 314 W Main St., Grass Valley, at 7:30 p.m. March 1 or 10 a.m. March 2. $8-$27; 530-274-8384 ext. 14, www.thecenterforthearts.org.)

Voice actress Landon, who plays the Molly Sloan character, adds that audiences of all stripes can get into “Robot Planet Rising” and the “Intergalactic” experience.

“For sci-fi and fantasy fans, they’re going to love it,” she says. “For fans of radio drama, they’re going to love it. And for fans of innovative theater, they’re going to love it. And, of course, kids, too.”

The Intergalactic Nemesis:

Robot Planet Rising

What: A galaxy-jumping adventure story told as a multimedia experience

When: 8 p.m. March 4

Where: Mondavi Center (One Shields Ave., Davis)

Cost: $27-$51

Info: (866) 754-2787; mondaviarts.org

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