Thursday, January 19, 2017

The curious play at Ghost Light Theatricals

Beth Pollack and Kevin Lin (Joe Iano)
The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
Ghost Light Theatricals
Through February 4, 2017

To a large extent, Madeleine George’s Pulitzer finalist play, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, seems to suggest that artificial intelligence could be somewhat seductive as a partner, but it’s not as fulfilling as messy real life. To get around to that conclusion, you might have to mull it over for a few days after you see the production at Ghost Light Theatricals.

Let’s start by saying that Ghost Light’s production is nicely directed by Steven Sterne, who brings out sensitive portrayals by the two playing sensitive characters, Beth Pollack and Kevin Lin, and an appropriately off-putting one by Brent Griffith. This is a well-balanced trio of actors.

So, the evening is a pleasing one, watching them interact, though George’s play is not so easy to tease apart. I also spent some not insignificant time enjoying the rubric-cube-like puzzle set piece designed by Brandon Estrella that folded open and closed and became multiple locations while staying in one large cube-space.

The trio of actors must all fly back and forth in a time-travel morphing persona adventure from 1876 to 2011. They each portray several characters who all keep the same name but are not the same persons. Here’s a rundown, but it’s not in the order we meet these characters. It’s in an order that makes it easier to describe here.

Victorian industrialist-innovator Mr. Merrick longs for science to build him the perfect wife, though he has a real life "imperfect" Mrs. Merrick, who worries about her husband's sanity. He tries to get Sherlock Holmes to help him, but only meets Holmes’ friend, Dr. Watson. There is another “olden days” Watson, Thomas Watson, assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

Later, Merrick runs for public office in 2011. He has an ex-wife Eliza, who is finishing work on a computerized android designed to serve as a service/comfort companion to the physically and/or emotionally impaired. Her android is named Watson. She has named her AI after the Watson that kicked Ken Jennings' butt on Jeopardy.

2011 Merrick is paranoid about being stalked by his ex-wife and hires a guy, Watson from the Dweeb Team tech team who helps fix his computer, to spy on his ex-wife. Instead of reporting back to Merrick, tech Watson finds himself falling in love with Eliza.

George’s dialogue develops intriguing premises and relationships. All the Watsons are there to serve. All their service is selfless and giving. They are great at being second-bananas. They don’t long to become any more than what they are.

The Elizas and the Franks are the ones who are uneasy with the varieties of service offered to them. The play suggests that people who both give and take, hurt and love, demonstrate their better selves and their worst selves, are more satisfying than those who try to make life “perfect” all the time.

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