Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Robots, Robots, Everywhere...

"The year is 2007. The last human being died in 1961. Each year we gather together to tell the story that we never ever forget."

So a few of us folks from Nosedive Central went to go see "Bernie Mac" Rogers's latest, Universal Robots at the manhattantheatresource last night. This is not to be confused with 31 Down radio theater's production of a different play, also called Univseral Robots and also based loosely on Karel Capek's 1921 play, R.U.R.

I suggest you check it out, too. (Mac's play, that is. I haven't seen 31 Down radio theater's show.)

As is the case with almost all of his plays, Mac brings a whole lot of "meat" to Universal Robots, which is one of the most dense works I've seen for the stage since...well...his play, Hail Satan. Mac doesn't just dabble in ethical, theological, spiritual, scientific, philosophical and political themes throughout; he delves into all of them.

At once.


And I mean Thor. Ough. Ly.

Mac freely adapts Capek's aforementioned play, which introduced the word "robot" to the world, but departs significantly from Capek's script. Universal Robots tells an alternate history of the 20th Century, starting with the invention of the robot and chronicling the consequences of that invention and how said invention completely and permanently changes the world's timeline, and not necessarily for the best for humanity. Ulp.

In Universal Robots, a scientist (or rather, a scientist's wife who has gone insane and believes herself to be her scientist husband, but don't worry about that) figures out a way to make automatons, which tickles the imagination of the playwright Karel Capek, who has coincidentally just staged a play about introducing automatons into the world. Since Capek has the ear of the President of Czechoslovakia, he convinces President Masaryk to mass-produce these automatons to do the work nobody wants to do.

Then things go wrong.

Well..."wrong" isn't the right word. I suppose I should really write, "Things become inevitable."

It's part science fiction, part political allegory, part thriller, part redemptive tragedy, part spiritual parable and part historical fiction run amok. And let's face it: it's also part robots taking over the world awesomeness (a lovely genre).

Mac brought an excellent cast on board for this incredibly ambitious and fascinating show. In particular, Jason Howard as the simpleton waiter named Radosh who ends up being the template for Radius, the first robot, is amazing. He makes every line he speaks sound as if it's his own, even as a robot (when he plays Radius and first gets activated, I thought: "How the hell did he do that with his voice?").

Also thoroughly believable is James Wetzel, who plays the President of Czechoslovakia. I didn't watch him and think, "Well, he's playing that role effectively." I thought: "Yes, that's the President of Czechoslovakia."

Of course, singling these two actors out may seem like a slight to the rest of the cast. I don't intend that: everyone in this show is all very good and very believable.

I really could go on and on about Capek contemplating how playwrights engage in self-marginalization, President Masaryk stuck between the rock of wanting to keep Pandora's Box shut and the hard place of scientific progress being inevitable, or wondering if it's okay for pedophiles to molest or have sex with robots designed look like children (they're technically restraining themselves from hurting real children), but I'd rather let you see it all for yourself and not ruin it.

Seriously, folks. This play is brilliant.

Universal Robots is playing until July 19 at manhattantheatresource. For reservations call 212-501-4751.

Ready to fight the robots,

James "I'll Take 'Em" Comtois

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Blogger Mac said...

Thanks James! I'm glad you liked it.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Mike Mariano said...

We may not have avoided Mac's fantastic alternate history, as Australia now warns us:

Top cop predicts robot crimewave.

5:51 PM  

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