Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War
nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
April 2, 2010
Suspenseful, stirring, and surprising from the opening moment straight through to the end, Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War is a uniquely theatrical, thrilling, and terribly moving show.
The setup is straightforward: a four-person team is producing an American-style old-time radio show in present day Irkutsk, Russia. The twist is that this "present day" is one where giant killer robots appeared in Iowa in 1959, destroying everything in their path, and have kept reappearing from time to time terrifying and conquering the Earth piece by piece, city by city, coming ever closer.
In spite of this, because of this, this little group puts on a weekly radio show, "The At Home Field Guide" brought to you by Soviet Free Radio Order. It's part Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, part Orson Welles's War of the Worlds, and part something wholly its own.
A love triangle is the topic of the play within the play, and it's told in various radio styles: Noir, Western, Beat Poet. Startling, stunning, and so freakin' good I felt myself leaning forward in my seat, wanting to drink in every nuance, every subtle shift, every unsaid moment. You are hypnotized, mesmerized, and then given a wham upside the head and a sock in the guts. It's that good.
The world inside their radio studio is tangled and broken and yet the team carries on with a cool dignity. Both noble and stupid, shockingly selfish and brave, these people, these characters are enthralling. We are completely drawn into this world and it is terrifying. With the threat of killer robots all around, the humanity gets in under your skin, works its way into your heart. Sound by Stowe Nelson not only sets the mood but transports us and whisks us away to this alternate universe.
As The Host, co-author Joe Curnutte is brilliant. As the lead in their radio play he's so genuine, so fearless. Curnutte is equally at ease with the hammy Russian host and the old Western songs, with the various styles of radio, and with clearly communicating the murky unsaid.
As the Scientist, co-author Marc Bovino has depth and grace and strength and dignity to spare. So poignant as the younger brother in their play, so moving as the lonely Doctor in their studio, Bovino is inspiring.
As the Girl, Anastasia, Stephanie Wright Thompson is enigmatic, nonchalantly drawing in the men around her while coolly ignoring them. Her spot-on Western-style singing, and work in the play within the play is sweet and heartfelt.
The musical director and fourth member of the ensemble, the guitarist Michael Dalto, is silent, except for a final monologue and folk song in Russian, performed without translation. None is needed. He is eloquent in any language.
Lila Neugebauer's direction is haunting, the story artfully told, authentic in its style while creating a style all its own. I'm still thinking about it. Still wondering if they escaped. Still hoping they did.