Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sci-Fi Theater: Samuel & Alasdair

Samuel and Alasdair: A History of the Robot Wars
January 6, 2012

I'm a sucker for science-fiction onstage, and this month, I'm seeing several plays with sci-fi elements. The first, Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot Wars, may wear its genre in its subtitle but it rejects genre clich├ęs almost entirely. Instead, this show is a tidy piece of naturalism. The action takes place over a 75-minute broadcast of an old-style American variety show made at a Siberian AM radio station. A corny tale of teen brothers competing for the same girl gets interrupted by call-in trivia contests, classic country tunes, and house ads, but also by unsettling power outages and strange sonic feedback. Hints about the recent past coalesce into a version of robot apocalypse. In the alternate history of Samuel and Alasdair, atomic-era robots with death-ray eyes and telescoping limbs destroyed North America sometime in the 1950s.

The trope of a robot uprising is at least as old as the word “robot” itself. But the company, the Mad Ones, offers a fresh take on the modern myth, recounting the fate of humanity through the prism of a few hopeless souls. Conceived by writer/actors Marc Bovino and Joe Curnutte and director Lila Neugebauer, the show rations exposition carefully, describing just enough of the catastrophe outside the station to evoke a sense of global despair. Neugebauer stages the action with quiet minimalism, so that an unobtrusive gesture can tip an unspoken romantic triangle on its end. Her approach encourages the audience to listen carefully and watch actively―so that we notice, for instance, that the most sophisticated piece of technology onstage is a rotary phone. But despite the quiet melancholy, Samuel and Alasdair is holds us rapt. This is a superb, moving drama, and incidentally, poignant science-fiction.

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Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot Wars plays at the New Ohio Theater (154 Christopher Street), closing on January 21. Tickets?

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