nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 10, 2008
When it comes to sci-fi, I have always been a fan of the struggle of artificial life to become more human because it holds a mirror up to our own humanity. Robot Uprising is four short plays but they all have the common theme of examining real relationships versus artificial relationships and this holds a mirror up to the way we deal with other humans in a way that I found very fascinating and, most importantly, entertaining.
The opening program, titled Real Love, has a great turnaround at the end. It deals with two couples—one that has reached its breaking point and another that has been recently torn apart by a sex robot. One of the husbands, Bill, dumps his wife, Carol, to be with his pleasure appliance, but he soon finds that the robot is more of a nag than his wife and so, after deactivating her, he comes crawling back. There is a bit more to the plot here but I don't want to give away the ending. In the ending scene in Blade Runner the lead android is musing about his memories being lost forever after he is deactivated (or murdered, depending your perspective). Playwright Sean Sakamoto uses this scene as a parallel in his play and while I found it intriguing I could not help but feel that Sakamoto could have explored this subject much more deeply. Overall, Real Love needs more development. Its relationships and dialogue are not organic or believable and struck me as merely a means to Sakamoto's ending twist.
The second show, Backup, is a very enticing science fantasy short story about two scientists who are forced to face death. . .well, sort of. In this world, death isn't such a final thing because you can simply download your consciousness into a mainframe and then upload into a new robotic body. However, one of the characters doesn't want to let go of his real body. Playwright Saif Ansari creates a play with a stark, futuristic look and some great dialogue that is as thought-provoking as it is confusing. I could not understand why one of them is so surprised by the prospect of dying and coming back when the other one is so relaxed and accepting of it. It is well-established that this is a part of their world but it seemed as if he had never heard of it. This play has the makings of a very tense, mind-blowing story but at about 15 minutes long Backup could benefit from some expansion and story development.
The third selection was my favorite of the evening. Titled The Same Results Every Time and penned by James DiGiovanna, this play is a brilliant concept that is very funny and very well executed. It deals with three robots whose interactions with each other are being observed in a controlled environment. Each robot has certain characteristics such as adventurous or apprehensive and so on. They constantly influence each other into wanting to either join together or branch out alone. The resulting comedy of human relationships is a lot of fun to watch. DiGiovanna's script is heady but he never takes himself too seriously. He toys with relationship dynamics in a manner that is very exposing and yet light-hearted and almost tongue-in-cheek.
For me, Invalid Entry comes in a close second as the most entertaining of the night. In this world, people live alone and never have contact with one another. Everyone has a personal robot that takes care of all (and I mean all) of their needs. The robots make their food, provide entertainment, act as their toilets and, in what they call a "maintenance routine," their sexual partners as well. The story centers around a boy and his robot. One day a girl sneaks into his apartment and together they discover a new sort of maintenance routine. Playwright Jason Ellis writes an extremely funny play in an over-the-top, even campy style. The robot is outfitted with a giant, sliver box like a third grade Halloween costume. The bad guy is shallow and maniacal but I really could not understand his motivation. I don't want to give it away but he seemed self-defeating to me. Still, this play is so much fun and a great ending to the night.
The ensemble—Jason Ellis, Christine Ann Sullivan, M. Kerry Campbell, Timothy Gillespie, Tom Moglia, Jason Keeley, and Eve Sullivan—do very good work with multiple roles. Keeley, Ellis, and C. A. Sullivan really stuck out in my mind. Eve Sullivan directs the first three plays and Christine directs the final one. Overall, the direction creates a lucid picture of a sci-fi world and the exploration of human relationships is perfectly highlighted. There are a few moments that could use some polish such as the struggle in Backup but those are few and far between.
Robot Uprising is a unique night of entertainment. I don't think that you have to be a "sci-fi nerd" to enjoy it. If anything, it may cause you to look at your relationships with a more discerning, almost bionic eye.