The Brain From Planet X: Not Joe McCarthy Approved (and That’s Why It’s so Good)


Helen Zhang, Staff Writer

Imagine that it’s circa 1958: America is deep in its McCarthyist phase of thought, President Eisenhower’s Highway Act frames suburbia as escapism, and white parents who subscribe to the ideas of the American Dream and the Nuclear family are deeply concerned about Elvis Presley’s “Gyrating” and movies like “Rebel without a Cause” as the Fourth of July fast approaches. The latter probably holds true in the San Fernando Valley of LA County, as Fred and Joyce Bunsen live in their respectable one story home (with backyard and grill) while raising their daughter, Donna. They’re a typical 1950s couple: Fred’s a bit of a sexist but mostly benevolent, and Joyce tolerates him while being able to make really good cookies and a killer Shrimp Jello Salad. Donna, on the other hand, is what you’d expect in a rebellious teenager of the time: conforming to societal standards of what a “Perfect Little Girl” should be, but then throwing that out of a window as she’s secretly dating Rod, a Greaser with a knack for deep and brooding poetry who uses the world “man” a lot, and I mean a lot. Even though this image may seem gilded and even a bit toxic, it’s what we expect of the 1950s. But this all gets turned on its head when the Brain and its two alien aids from Planet X with a mission to destroy the earth, starting with the core of Fred and Joyce’s world: The family unit. But will they succeed? 

The above is a brief contextualization of this year’s Upper School Musical, The Brain from Planet X. I first heard about this play through social media, flyers, and conversations with participating cast members. Everyone was hyping up this play as “hilarious” and “really good,” but I was mainly focused on the fact that it was set in the 1950s and that it branded itself as a “send-up of bad 50s sci-fi movies, ” something fresh in my mind as I thought about black and white movies like in Invasion of Body Snatchers and Clasablanca which were fresh in my mind from APUSH (which you should all take). But anyways, after a busy week, I thought watching it on a Friday night would be a perfect introduction to the weekend. So I paid the $5 fee, bought some food, and sat down in the left row close to the orchestra, patiently waiting for the play to start. So it started, two and half hours pass by, and after coming back out to the foyer, and I can confirm with 100% certainty that all of the hype was true, and that it exceeded all of my expectations. 


Based on 7 responses Winchester has received from Niche, 100% of the students and parents believe that students at this school are creative and artsy. In short, you know the casting is going to be good. A special shoutout will be given to Frankie, the subject of a previous article and the show’s title antagonist. He was audacious, distinct with his movements, overall very readable, a bit cheesy for a super villain, and really funny; he really embodied the spirit of the play. As for the rest of the cast, they did that while also giving life to their characters. Things that needed to emphasize the cluck of the tongue or the echo of the throat were emphasized; things that needed to be kept in the low were kept in the low albeit with dramatic hand gestures and facial expressions; you always knew what was going on and what emotions were being expressed.

Set Design

Also connecting to the Niche Poll, this play’s set design lived up to expectations, if not exceeds it. Fred and Joyce’s house also serves as the Brain’s spaceship controls, while the farm and Makeout Mountain adorn the left and right side respectively. The former was a bit simplistic, but justifiably so, and the latter also followed that trend, but it was well painted. Fred and Joyce’s house is what you’d expect of a 1950s house, but a detached fence and shrubbery along with a grill indicated that they had a backyard. How the set handled the transition between quaint suburbia to intricate Alien spaceship is really genius though: The alien spaceship controls were white with shiny and colorful buttons, and lots of light. But when going from scene to scene, the other side is always well hidden and never intrudes on the atmosphere of the other. The Alien Spaceship was also a nice touch, being a folding contraption that juts out from the other side. TL;DR: Set design was simply divine.


The main reason why I really like this musical was because of its unique attributes, that being the Feel O-Rama and the audience participation bit. Both added a comedy to an already very funny play as audience members on the hotseat gave amusing and relatable answers, while the Feel O-Rama was what sets The Brain From Planet X apart from previous plays. Now, we’ve all seen cast members come off stage and either cartwheel through the aisle or beg you to give money, but rarely do you get people running across the rows of chairs throwing red foam and spritzing you with water. While getting wet with clothes on is never fun, one of the silhouettes of a cast member coming up to you and loudly pretending to puke into a bucket is both scary and in character for this play.


You should all see this musical, especially if you like making fun of the 1950s, want to laugh, and hate Dwight Eisenhower as much as I do. The technical elements of the play are what make it unique and ultimately, a-must-see.