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THEATER REVIEW Down the Rocky Road and All the Way to Bedlam
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-04-11

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Playwright: D. Matthew Beyer

At: Otherworld Theatre at Nox Arca Studio, Suite 405 at 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave. Tickets: Pay-what-you-can ( suggested price: $20 ). Runs through: May 13

Whether exemplifying the technological utopias of the 1890s, the space operas of the 1930s, the social commentaries of the 1960s or the cyberpunk nihilism of the 1990s, all science fiction must mirror its own cultural context or risk its viewers wasting valuable time orienting themselves within its dramatic universe, instead of heeding its author's lesson.

The premise for D. Matthew Beyer's play is based in a genealogical practice frequently observed, but rarely articulated: that of parents who, confronted with a sickly first child, promptly produce a second, in order to ensure continuance of the family line ( "an heir and a spare" ) and to provide a caretaker for the afflicted sibling. The drug-resistant tuberculosis that Tom Bedlam and Lain Jerusalem feared would soon destroy their beloved daughter Lucy, however, has condemned her to a lingering death, making for an uneasy filial dynamic in which the now 11-year-old Lucy rages against her infirmity, Lain flees her kin to seek a remedy for her crippling depression, and Tom buries himself in his work, pausing only to remind Lucy's sibling, Z, that she is merely a device created to serve the needs of her "makers." He means it, too: Z, you see, is a robot.

So what happens when post-21st-century artificial intelligence is packaged in a vintage body and raised as the demographically inferior companion of a physically imperfect mortal? Tom and Lain heap blame for their misfortune on one another, while Lucy and Z quarrel over which their parents love best, until an accident renders this war of attrition forever moot—but what then is to become of the AI android who now really, really needs her mother?

Beyer's text employs several literary references likely familiar to Otherworld Theatre Company's audiences, but a pre-curtain wiki-search of Isaac Asimov's three Laws of Robotics and the canon of Roger Zelazny ( Z's namesake ) is advised generally. Playgoers of less fanciful disposition need not dread becoming engulfed in STEMspeak, though. Lauren N. Fields' direction retains a firm grip on its subtext to keep the progress of Beyer's characters ( in particular, Chase Nuerge's Z ) precise and palpable right up to a final moment that just might bring forth a bona fide human tear.


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