nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
June 15, 2007
Dr. Eliezer Yudkowski, the lead character in Yudkowski Returns (The Rise And Fall And Rise Again Of Dr. Eliezer Yudkowski) wishes he were Japanese. He sits at a desk scattered with seemingly random paraphernalia, downloads episodes of Lost and analyzes the homoerotic subtext of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He orders Chinese food. He puts on his Psycho-Sociological Hat, dances around the theatre and leaps into the narcissistic void of his psyche created by a recent breakup. He restages significant moments while putting others in newfound contexts depending on his ability to understand them. And he is not alone.
He has the audience, whom he addresses frequently and with a plastered-on smile, and he has The Assistant, a friendly, disheveled, and increasingly confused woman who is at different times his girlfriend, his girlfriend-as-ex, his confidante, and his conscience. Is she real? I'm not confident Dr. Yudkowski knows. But their isolation—his voluntary, hers more problematic—creates an incredibly complex relationship which plays out as they wait on the appearance of The Singularity, an Artificial Intelligence technology that can solve all of life's unsolvable problems. It makes sense of the nonsensical and will bring an end to all of humanity's conflicts as well as Dr. Yudkowski's isolation and, quite possibly, The Assistant's existence.
It took me nearly three quarters of the show to put these plot pieces together because Yudkowski Return's is a mess; a well-acted, cleverly presented, and surprisingly funny muddle. The production consists of the games they play with each other and the audience as they await The Singularity's arrival. The games are often funny and brutal contests that serve the purpose of constantly redefining their relationship to each other and the audience's relationship to them. It was a confusing path to follow because director/playwright Robert Saietta constantly undercuts his characters' experiences by failing to grant their experiences lasting, dramatic weight. They experience things, drop their experiences, and, unaffected, move on. This seems forgivable in a play exploring such murky territory but it keeps it from achieving a lasting impact.
Near the end of the play though, Saietta provides us with a moment of supreme clarity. After an argument, The Assistant walks out and, alone and vulnerable, an earnest Yudkowski looks directly at the audience and admits that he might look pathetic but "why are you watching? Why are you here?" It was an uncomfortable moment during which I had to struggle to keep up. Loss is one of life's more terrible experiences. It is full of pain and rationalization and there are very few concrete answers in a process that is at best 20/20 hindsight. By letting Yudkowski's question linger, Saietta gives the audience a moment to give serious thought to his question. It's also a moment that asks some important questions about The Singularity. What is it that we demand from clarity? And what is it—observation? reflection? endurance?—that helps us move on?