UNCANNY VALLEY by Thomas Gibbons reviewed in The New York Times

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Excerpt: ‘Uncanny Valley’

 

Excerpt: ‘Uncanny Valley’

Alex Podulke and Barbara Kingsley in “Uncanny Valley,” by Thomas Gibbons, at 59E59 Theaters. (Courtesy of the Contemporary American Theater Festival.)

Video by Mimi d’Autremont on Publish Date October 19, 2014.

 

He who dies with the most toys wins, or so they say. But what’s the point of having all those playthings if death is going to rip you from them anyway?

In Thomas Gibbons’s futuristic two-hander “Uncanny Valley,” presented by the Contemporary American Theater Festival at 59E59 Theaters, a very wealthy man named Julian hasn’t quite found immortality, but he has bought a means to forestall his demise for at least a couple of centuries.

With pancreatic cancer about to kill him, Julian plans to download the contents of his mind into an artificial human that carries his DNA and looks just as he did at 34, more than half a lifetime ago. The machine will assume his identity and his existence.

“I haven’t had enough,” Julian tells Claire, a neuroscientist who has spent her career working on artificial consciousness. “This world, this life! I can’t even imagine having my fill.”

The simulated Julian (Alex Podulke) is at first little more than a talking head in Claire’s office. Soon he gets a torso, then one arm and another, eventually an entire body. Schooling him, before the download, in the ways of our “skittish species,” Claire (Barbara Kingsley) explains the phenomenon of the uncanny valley: People get creeped out when something — such as the android Bina48, which inspired this play — looks almost, but not quite, human.

Photo

“Uncanny Valley,” with Alex Podulke as an android, and Barbara Kingsley as a scientist who grooms him. Credit Seth Freeman

Mr. Podulke’s alert, sympathetic performance never elicits that shuddery sensation. Instead, he makes Julian a recognizable Mitt Romney type — even in the stiff, mechanical manner Julian has early on. Post-download, endowed with an oligarch’s smooth, entitled confidence, he retains a faint androidal echo in his speech and seems just disconnected enough from the concerns of ordinary humans.

The notion of human consciousness transplanted into machines is in the air right now. In Brooklyn, a different play called “The Uncanny Valley” features two actors and a RoboThespian, which is exactly what it sounds like. In Los Angeles, holograms substitute for dead loved ones in Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime.”

Mr. Gibbons’s “Uncanny Valley” is set perhaps 40-some years in the future but deliberately, somewhat jarringly, designed to look like now. It’s a techno take on the Pinocchio story: We watch Julian become an almost-real man, with Claire as one of a team of Geppettos. At 70, worried about her ailing, older husband, she’s familiar with the ravages of mortality that the wealthy can now escape.

Yet, as directed by Tom Dugdale, Ms. Kingsley seldom seems truly present, so it is difficult to believe in Claire the way we do in Julian. He is only a simulated human, and there may be a void where his ethical compass ought to be. But we’re sort of rooting for him just the same.

CANCUN por Jordi Galceran

Gala Hispanic Theatre presents “Cancun” by Jordi Galceran

CANCUN: A story about what happens when a dream vacation turns into the life you could only imagine.

After a night of fun, two married couples vacationing in Cancun begin to contemplate new possibilities in the great “what if’s” of their lives.

This hilarious comedy about contemporary relationships and marriage is written by Jordi Galceran, one of Spain’s leading playwrights from Catalonia.

Thursday, Sept 11 through Sunday, Oct 5, 2014

  • Written by Jordi Galceran. Directed by José Zayas.

  • In Spanish with English Surtitles

  • Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: https://www.boxofficetickets.com/bot/wa/event?id=283083

GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010
202-234-7174

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FAUNA and BLOOD, two short plays by Yasmine Rana, now published in Kenyon Review

In 2013 the playwright Yasmine Rana was invited to submit a short play for a ten-minute festival in New York. She responded with a piece that was, in part, a dramatic response to the art installation by Imran Qureshi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Roof Garden Commission. We were seized with admiration for “Fauna and Blood” and accepted it for publication in KROnline. Ms. Rana then offered a companion piece, also of great power. We are delighted to present both short plays here, along with photos of Imran Qureshi’s The Roof Garden Commission, which inspired them.

Scholastic’s ASTROBLAST blasts on to television Saturday, July 12th. Stage rights available

Astroblast!, a new original animated series from Scholastic Media, is ready for takeoff!  Produced by Scholastic Media’s Soup 2 Nuts studio, the series (26 episodes) for pre-schoolers launches on Sprout  this Saturday July 12th.   The series will also air on NBC Saturday mornings starting in October.

Astroblast! is based on the Scholastic book series by Bob Kolar and follows the hilarious adventures of a crew of irresistible animals in outer space. Through the crew’s friendship, the series imparts important messages (Rocket Rules) to preschoolers about embracing differences, modeling positive relationships and fostering healthy habits

Stephen Sachs’ BAKERSFIELD MIST opens in London

The Times – 4 stars

“Odd couple’s row has comedy off to fine art”

(see full review)

Back in the West End for the first time in eight years, Kathleen Turner reminds us what a genuinely compelling stage star she is in this nimble, rewarding, new art-world comedy about faith, fakes and first impressions.

Yes, at first glance, Stephen Sachs’s one-act play appears amusing but a bit pat. It pits Ian McDiarmid’s prissy English art expert, Lionel, against Turner’s working-class bartender, Maude. Lionel has flown by private jet from New York to a trailer park in Bakersfield, California, to test Maude’s claim that the canvas she bought for three dollars from a local junk shop is an original Jackson Pollock (the show is inspired by a true story).

As he sneers at Maude’s cluttered trailer home — a marvellously intimate, convincing set by Tom Piper — and assures her that he is a connoisseur and she is a nobody, you wonder how much mileage Sachs will get from this odd couple of lonely, ageing abrasive types from opposite ends of the social scale.

Plenty, it turns out. “My first impression of you was completely inaccurate,” says Lionel after what turns into a thoroughly entertaining 85 minutes of quipping, arguing, boozing, opining, fist-fighting and soul-baring. Polly Teale’s well-paced production allows us to see that Lionel’s superciliousness is his barricade against the world, while Maude’s uneducated bluffness — “Well, who else would paint shit like that?” growls Turner, gesturing at the 5ft-high picture she has propped up for McDiarmid to inspect — conceals an intelligent, determined woman looking more for acceptance than money. Like Art before it, this play’s real canvas is not just artistic authenticity but human authenticity.

McDiarmid is a treat. Enthusing about Pollock’s “lariats of colour”, he renders the painter’s style in action, his body swirling around as if wielded by Pollock’s own hand. As Lionel gets blurred by booze, McDiarmid shows us a man whose determination to be a “fake-buster” is inseparable from the way he lost his pre-eminence in New York’s art scene.

Although Turner handles Sachs’s comic dialogue with zest, this American screen star makes a big character feel utterly true as she stalks around in jeans and plaid shirt, glass of bourbon in hand, uttering throaty put-downs and letting us in on her sadness without turning sentimental.

The title is a spin on a Pollock painting, Lavender Mist, that has a bearing on a plot that takes on a thrillerish knottiness as it goes along.

Yes, at this short length it’s impressionistic, finally offering more questions than answers about taste, expertise and artistry. No matter: this pithy, beautifully performed play put a smile on my face and kept my brain buzzing for a good while afterwards.

The Guardian (see front page):

Sachs TURNER PRIZE in West End

 

The Daily Mail – 4 stars

  “Gravel, wheeze and cigarettes … what a voice Kathleen has”

“an intellectual show full of shadings. Ad you are out in plenty of time for dinner.”

Not online yet

The Daily Telegraph – 3 stars

Turner and McDiarmid are terrific ..

Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid shine in Stephen Sach’s entertaining  play about the discovery of a possible Jackson Pollock”

“This odd couple are a work of art”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/10858064/Bakersfield-Mist-Duchess-Theatre-review-Turner-and-McDiarmid-are-terrific.html