THEATRE: The nerds shall inherit the Earth in Trent Wilkie’s Book on Tape

At the rate human evolution is going, it won’t be long until the archetypical “nerd” so scorned in the past will become the ultimate male ideal of the future – nearsighted, into Star Trek, fond of over-explaining every little nerdly thing they get into. Make way for Homo Nerdectus!

Trent Wilkie, whose nerd credentials seem to be in good order, has concocted a fantastical brave new world for his madcap time twist tale, Book on Tape (The Play), opening Thursday in the Transalta Arts Barns PCL Studio (buy tickets). It’s a return to comic form for the Edmonton playwright, whose Gargamel play last year wound up being a bit too morbid for his liking. “I did a play about death and I said, oh, gosh, what did I get myself into? Why did I get so heavy handed when what I really like to do is have fun? So this is total goofy fun.”

Yet serious themes emerge. In the future, for instance, social networking has evolved from being an annoying waste of time into a crucial survival skill. In the future, only the most respected citizens are allowed to carry the ornamental flashlight-powered light-sabre, a sign of nobility, not idiocy. In the future, one’s online name is also one’s real name, always and forever. In short, geeky traits are where it’s at. Or where it will be at.

Time travel tales can be so confusing, and this one is a doozy.

It’s a basic boy-meets-girl-with-aliens story: Our hero Targ Wildstar (Wilkie) has come back from the future to make sure a girl he has a crush on (Joleen Ballendine) goes to Mars in order to save the Earth from alien invasion, which has already happened.

“You like time twist stories? Actually it’s a double time twist,” Wilkie says. “He’s from the future and he had a crush on her when he came back in time the first time and gets her to marry him. But because they’re married she doesn’t go to Mars and the world gets taken over. So he has to go back in time a second time and not marry her and make sure she goes to Mars.”

Clear? Wilkie explains that all will be explained in ridiculous detail – the over-explaining used as a comic device so the complicated plot can actually be explained at all. Clever trick.

The girl has an interesting job: As a professional online “friend” for countless lonely people. She’s so good at it that the fate of humanity may rest in her hands. She’s not so good with real people, however. Parallels to the texting tweet generation that has supposedly lost touch with humanity may be explored, but not with too heavy a hand, Wilkie says. He points out that we’ve been sitting around campfires thousands of years longer than we’ve been sitting around TVs or computer screens, but it’s all basically the same thing: Making contact with other humans.

Just one more thing to explain: The play is called Book on Tape because Wilkie used to listen to a lot of books on tape when he worked various menial jobs, and was particularly inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, whose hero becomes “unstuck in time.” There’s also a good deal of geeky fun to be had presenting this story as a B-rated pulp fiction novel.

“It’s just a bunch of crazy crap and nerd stuff,” the playwright says. “It’s literally like you’re listening to a book on tape.”