Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sci-Fi Theater: World of Wires

They're not real, they're actors
World of Wires
The Kitchen
adapted & directed by Jay Scheib
January 12, 2012

More sci-fi theater! But unlike last week's accessible apocalypse, World of Wires is theatrically challenging and philosophically abstruse. Jay Scheib, the It Boy of experimental theater, has adapted and directed a 1970s German TV film by Fassbinder, which itself was based on a '60s SF paperback. Every version of the work worries over the conceit that, if a computer were powerful enough and a program sophisticated enough, a simulated environment would be indistinguishable from reality itself. It follows a computer scientist who begins to suspect that his life is as artificial as any he's programmed. Scheib may be scratching his head over the existential implications, but fortunately he doesn't let his confusion show onstage. The source material keeps him grounded, because despite its futuristic trappings, the plot of this piece is patterned on film noir, with a missing person, a dead body, a mysterious blonde, and a political conspiracy.
With a solid story for his foundation, Scheib is free to apply the disorienting devices of modern experimental theater. He literally digitizes his actors by shadowing them with a camera and feeding the video to flatscreens onstage. He directs the cast to deliver their dialogue flatly but otherwise to perform with breakneck activity and sensual vivacity. He skews the sense of place and perspective with a set (designed by Sara Brown) that deliberately obscures which level of simulated reality a scene plays out on. Maybe Scheib's only significant error is that he paces his show at a constant level of hyperactivity, which becomes exhausting. The source material, meanwhile, finally fails him by wrapping up a little too optimistically, given its noir echoes and the adaptation's ironic posturing. But otherwise, World of Wires couches its forward-looking philosophy perfectly in an idiom of theatrical futurism.


World of Wires plays at the Kitchen (512 West 19th Street), closing on January 21. Tickets?

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