Photo by Katelyn Schiller.

THE POD is a brief, but memorably powerful show that will teach you not only about yourself, but how humanity can be found in the most special places. You are a candidate for Macora Aerospace and Robotics International’s first-ever human voyage to the nearest habitable planet. However, it is immensely far away from Earth with many possible risks to your person along the way. As such, before the company can approve you as the final candidate, you must undergo a simulation to see whether or not you are prepared enough mentally and physically to endure the trials being alone in space can bring. What you will discover about yourself along this journey will be nothing short of amazing and will stay with you for days.

What immediately stands out is how well thought-out the production and story are from start to finish, especially in terms of the set design. When you first enter the show space, you are first greeted with an android named Adina (played by Ashley Jones). She promptly checks you in and, while you wait for your turn in the simulation, you get to watch a very well-executed pre-show that walks you through everything that Macora Aerospace and Robotics International are hoping to achieve. The design of the waiting room in this portion accompanied by the pre-show video is simple, but easily makes you believe that you are legitimately waiting in a research facility’s waiting room.

Eventually, you are then brought into Dr. Malin’s (played by Nick Rheinwald-Jones) office where he explains to you what your task is today and fills you in on everything you need to know before entering THE POD. The offer is bare save for a desk and Dr. Malin’s equipment. In a moment of kind of brilliant writing, Dr. Malin apologizes for the bare space of the room, explaining that it was a matter of budget cuts. This brief world building helps to prepare you for meeting your mission partner while also helps to set the rules of the show so that they remain fresh in your mind before entering the simulation. Then you enter the room where you will meet your partner-in-crime on this long journey and what you will find will be a surprise.

I really do have to give a shout out to Katelyn Schiller and Rheinwald-Jones for their innovation and creativity in how they approached the small space used to house THE POD and simulate the, well, simulation. With the effective usage of lighting and sound, it is not difficult to imagine that you are legitimately traveling through a space simulation. For the instances in the simulation that are more difficult to emulate, the usage of a protective helmet helps to mask the technical limitations while assisting you in believing that you’ve entered a dangerous scenario within the simulation. The small space mirrors the claustrophobic conditions astronauts have to contend with in space and, as an android not wholly used to human contact, Schiller’s effective performance and specific usage of body movements help to make you connect with her while also reminding you that she’s not entirely human.

It’s not often that I don’t have any complaints about a show and, as I write this review, I’m finding myself drawing a blank on what possible critique I could give. Some might complain that the duration of the show is too short, but I felt that the team was able to deliver a well-rounded story that would leave an audience member satisfied as they walked away. Perhaps the only thing that I can really muse on is what would have happened if a different option had been selected. I wonder how the outcome would have changed as a result. To have that be the only thing I can think about as a potential downside or critique I think helps verify the bar that has been set by THE POD.

Overall, I would say that THE POD is easily my favorite immersive production at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Katelyn Schiller and Nick Rheinwald-Jones have created a memorable piece that is emotionally haunting and powerful. To deliver such an impactful show within a 20-minute span of time is nothing short of extraordinary. Schiller, in particular as Ellie, delivers a performance that intrigues and lingers on the mind. Everyone involved delivers such a high-caliber performance that it is truly hard to say anything negative about the show. It’s a shame that it has wrapped up because I’d love to have more people see it.

THE POD has currently wrapped up its simulation tests at Fringe, but don’t despair. Schiller and Rheinwald-Jones are currently co-writing Safehouse ’82, the sequel to Safehouse ’77, which will premiere in November. Stay tuned for further updates.

Sarah Musnicky
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