Steampunk Delusions at Open Eye Figure Theatre, produced by Hardcover Theater and English Scrimshaw Theatrical Novelties

Dawn Krosnowski , phillip andrew bennet low and Tim Uren in "The Diamond Lens"

Steampunk Delusions features two plays, one produced by Hardcover Theater and the other by English Scrimshaw Theatrical Novelties.

Hardcover Theater fills a curious niche in the Twin Cities, bringing to life somewhat obscure books and stories in sparsely but cleverly staged plays. The Diamond Lens: a Microscopic Fantasy of Love & Murder, written, produced and directed by Steve Schroer, is based on an 1858 story by Fitz-James O’Brian. The idea behind this play almost lent itself more naturally to dance, which doesn’t require much explanation—or logic in the story line. Or perhaps this play just needed to be funnier, wackier or more tragic. It was hard to really feel for our hapless protagonist, Douglas Linley because he seemed so, well, normal, for one with such a curious obsession.

How are we to get caught up in the world of a man who loves his microscope so much and is so taken with what he sees under it, and is so driven to possess the best microscope the world has ever known (and therefore to be able to see more than the world has ever seen), that in the end – well, either something remotely believable or something completely out of the realm of possibility happens. You get to pick.

One could suppose that the microscope, in the time period from which this story was taken, might have embodied the danger of dabbling too deep into the secrets of the universe, revealed by scientific discovery. Early Victorians (at least some) might have been threatened by that. But we’re not.

Regardless, I’m always entertained, at the very least, by the ingenuity Schroer shows in presenting what is a potentially complicated production using a tiny cast, no set and no props. Costumes and solid acting chops are all that is needed to take us into the world he has created for us. And even though a useful premise escaped me, there’s good craft in this script.

Phillip Andrew bennet low plays a thoroughly likeable Linley. Dawn Krosnowski and Tim Uren skillfully juggle multiple roles, and Kezia Germ is adorable as the dancing Animula. KT Thompson provided live keyboard accompaniment.

To Mars with Tesla, or The Interplanetary Machinations of Evil Thomas Edison, with at least some basis in a 1901 novel by J. Weldon Cobb, was created by Joshua Scrimshaw and Adrienne English.

Scrimshaw as Tesla and Kelvin Hatle as the not-too-scary villain, Edison, were hilarious together. As long as they were on the stage we knew what was powering the plot. In fact, anytime Scrimshaw and Hatle were onstage, it got interesting, and Amy Schweickhardt as Madame Curie was a good foil for the polished physical antics of the two leads.

Sending everybody to Mars, as ridiculously as that was accomplished, worked, to the extent that the Tesla vs. Edison conflict stayed in front of us. Even a shred of plausibility (and this has a really thin one) is enough when it’s funny enough, which it always was with Scrimshaw, in particular, was on stage.

The silliness on the moon … not so electrifying, even if there was a brain sucking Martian death hat. (That could have been a dandy steampunk contraption. Steampunk enthusiasts, just so you know, but for the rocket pack, you’ll have to use your imagination for actual mechanical gadgets beloved of the movement.)

The connection between the trip to the moon and the subplot of the hapless Martian family—even though the denouement plugged in to the Tesla/Edison feud—was a little too loose and the scene just didn’t light up. But after Scrimshaw’s escape from a wig lying on the floor (Tesla has a hair phobia), a scene truly worthy of the silent movie comics, the Martians appeared a bit like kids playing in the backyard.

Steampunk Delusions runs through May 12 at Open Eye Figure Theatre. Take time to admire the marionettes displayed on the wall.

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