The galaxy’s finest dining

Visitors from another world will be at Willow Ridge Restaurant starting this week.

New York playwright and Iowa Central Community College alum Kevin Kelleher is back with a cadre of New York actors to present his new science-fiction adventure comedy play “Starship Inner Prize.”

This is the third year Kelleher has presented an original play at the restaurant, and the second year it has been part of Iowa Central’s Arts at the Ridge.

This show will be much more visually oriented than Kelleher’s other shows, he said.

“It’s kind of like a movie on stage. It’s the length of a movie, and it has all the tropes, because it’s making fun of classic sci-fi,” Kelleher said.

Fans will see echos of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who” and even “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he said.

The story follows Starship Captain Curt as he is fired for his extreme incompetence.

“The greedy admiral who got him fired ends up freeing this ethereal villain character, played by a voice actor,” Kelleher said. “Our main character gets the chance to redeem himself, if he can, even though he’s obviously ill-equipped to handle such a terrible problem.”

The show will run Thursday through Saturday and Feb. 7 to 9. In between the two-show weekends, the Performing Arts Department will bring improv, cabaret and an open mic night to Willow Ridge.

Food for the shows will be provided by the culinary arts students, and includes intergalactic fare such as Denebian slime-devil eyeballs, grilled Petrokian animal, and Tribbles and bits. Fans of earthling cuisine might know the dishes as deviled eggs with caviar and arugula and grilled pork tenderloin with Bourguignonne Risotto – mushrooms, baby onions, red wine and sausage.

Because of the setting, the set will be much more complex than other years. Last year’s dinner theater was set at a ritzy nightclub.

“Before, we’ve basically worked on a bare stage and used the restaurant itself as the setting,” said actor Sean Coughlin, of New York. “Here we establish a strong fourth wall, separating the show from the audience. So we have to have the bridge of the starship, we have to have the surface of a planet, we’re in outer space at one point. There’s a lot more for the audience to see and enjoy.”

There will be a lot more lighting effects too, said Kelleher, with strobe lights, flashing colors and blacklights.

Plus, there’s a challenging, choreographed laser sword fight.

“That adds to the action element. I try and incorporate action into most of the stories that I craft,” Kelleher said. “Last year we had a little fist fight. The year before we had a story-within-a-story that had a sword fight. That was a little goofier, but they’ve been getting more legitimate as time goes on.”

The five New Yorkers came to Iowa and began rehearsals with the three Fort Dodge actors only last week.

“The biggest difference is that it’s one week of rehearsal. The last few years I think we had three weeks,” said Kelleher. “We had to do a lot more organization beforehand.”

Coughlin and Deven Kolluri came from New York to be in the show last year, but Andi Dema and Shayna Vercillo will be at Willow Ridge for the first time.

“Kevin asked me for ideas. The first two people I suggested were Andi and Shayna,” Coughlin said. “Seeing them perform in school, they were the funniest and the best actors I’d seen while I was there.”

“They had me at sci-fi action comedy adventure,” Vercillo said. “Just on reading it, it was very clever and so funny, I felt that this was – especially with this group of people – we would be able to have a lot of fun.”

“Having the playwright here with us is nice,” Dema said. “We were encouraged, if you have ideas, don’t hold them back.”