Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
November 26, 2010
Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is arguably one of the more important novels about the consequences of creating artificial consciousness. It is also one of his most famous works mostly due to the striking cyberpunk movie version of it (understandably re-titled Blade Runner) created by Ridley Scott in 1982. With this new adaptation playwright Edward Einhorn sets out to recapture some of the themes lost between the novel and its cult classic movie adaptation, and he does a very fine job of it.
The story is set in a world where most humans have left Earth for other colonized planets in our solar system because the Earth has become mostly unfit for life. At some point in the past androids were created as laborers on the colonies. These replicants are virtually indistinguishable from humans and there is often confusion over whether a humanoid is real or android. Humans are fine with these androids as long as they are on the colonies and doing their assigned job but sometimes they escape and integrate into real human society back on Earth. That's where our hero, Rick Deckard, comes in. He's a bounty hunter who hunts down and "retires" (i.e., shoots dead) these escaped androids. His contact at the police department has just given him a big assignment to hunt down three rogue androids. One of them, Luna, has already become a famous singer while the other two, Priss and Roy, have moved in with a "chickenhead" (someone who is not smart enough to pass the basic intelligence test in order to leave Earth) named Isador. Deckard also meets an android named Rachel who is the spokesperson for the corporation that makes the replicants. He unexpectedly falls in love with her and in the end learns a lot about what it means to be human and, by default, inhuman.
While the movie version focuses on what it means to be human by looking at our actions, the novel is more about our reactions. They are central to Dick's theme here and Einhorn revives these lost themes in his adaptation very well. He essentializes all of the plot points that highlight the characters' struggle to feel real emotions and cobbles a script that is taut and focused. He also directs the production. I liked that he sticks to the dime store detective novel feel of the book. His staging works well within the tight space and he creates some nice stage pictures. A lot of those pictures are bolstered by set designer Neal Wilkinson's vision of a deteriorating future world. There is an assortment of broken appliances and mannequin parts thrown into the nether regions that surround the raised stage platforms. Even the cellist, Laura Metcalf, uses a leg as a music stand.
Metcalf's live solo cello played throughout his production is fantastic! Henry Akona composed the warm and sedate melodies. They say the cello creates sounds that are closest to the human voice so it is a perfect choice of instrument for a story about what it really means to be human. There is a cool video component to the production that works in many ways. There are three oddly shaped screens hanging above the set with a projector pointed at each one. Video designer Jared Mezzocchi uses them mostly as video screens for phone calls or TV shows the characters are watching. All this video work is being performed live but there is a sound delay. At first I really liked the sound delay because it lends the show a great low-tech touch but it doesn't work for all the scenes. Overall the video work looks great and really helps to create the feeling of a failing futuristic society.
The cast is very good. Alex Emanuel plays Deckard with a cold, hard soul that slowly warms and melts as he begins to realize that he is actually more inhuman than human because he remorselessly hunts down androids. Yvonne Roen plays Priss and Rachel (the same model android but different people) with flair and certainly no fear. Moira Stone is extraordinary as Luna. She has a singing voice as strong as her acting skills. Christian Pedersen plays Roy with tons of grinning arrogance. He channels a lot of Rutger Hauer, who plays Roy is the movie. The rest of the cast does a fine job building this world where the lines between real and replica are blurred.
This production is surprisingly provocative. The script pinpoints the subject and daringly tackles some heavy ideas. The design and music are exceptional and the acting is pretty solid. There are likely to be a lot of people out there that really only know this story from the movie but this is a great way to get the story Philip K Dick intended.