Whether it’s a machine taking over the consciousness of a human as in the recent Navigator in Love or Jessica in which an android is created to fill in for a missing real person, it’s clear that The Twilight Zone was prescient. There’re even plans for a Twilight Zone musical!
In Jessica, rich, self-centered, twenty-something Allister (Michael Patrick Trimm) has gone into hock to hire young tech-geek Rudi (Will Sarratt) to recreate Jessica as an android (Alli Trussell). Rudi works at a company called Lyfe which specializes in producing realistic sex dolls. Taking this assignment intrigues Rudi until his creation, and everything involved with it, take a dark, unexpected turn.
The two men have fed hours and hours of Jessica’s history—facts, stories, memories and diaries—into this man-made robot built to look exactly like that young woman who mysteriously disappeared four years ago in 2013.
To help the project, Allister has imported Jessica’s lifelong friend, Mari (Anna Nemetz) from Chicago where she transferred herself in the hope of forgetting the pain of losing her friend. With Allister, the two develop written scenarios to fill the complex electronic/computer innards of the android in the hopes that she will eventually know enough to find where the real Jessica might be.
Allister and Mari bicker until she offers to bring in Lillian (Alison Scaramella), Jessica’s older, embittered sister who immediately wants the realistic android destroyed. To this end she enlists Mari who tentatively agrees to eliminate “Jessica” before she becomes even more realistic.
Bringing Lillian into the mix stirs things up until each character is forced to reveal their inner issues. Lillian’s last meeting with her sister who was suffering from deep depression, was troublesome. When she confronts the android, venting her anger, all hell breaks loose as the android makes an alarming transformation that tests the emotional and psychological limits of each character.
Vermillion writes distinctive characters who each have their own language, but fails to make his story believable or emotionally gripping by turning it into something closer to the surreal, expecting the audience to accept the rationalizations rather than science fiction. There are moments that communicate real emotion, particularly the low-key ending, but due to the nature of the story, Vermillion finds himself spending far too much time explicating the pseudoscience behind the title character.
Of course, there is profanity and some unintentionally funny science fiction gibberish to explain the fate of Android Jessica, a fate which takes what might have been a incisive, modern exploration of a character as seen through the eyes of the peripheral characters (as in the film Laura where we know everything about her even before she appears) and turns it into silliness.
What keeps Jessica interesting is the cast, all of whom work hard to find depth in their characters. Ms. Nemetz, in particular, grows deeper as the play progresses and it is her speech at the end of the play that ties things together.
Tyler M. Perry’s stark gray room and color-free lighting set the mood of experimentation. Amanda Aiken’s costumes, from Allister’s stylish casual chic to Mari’s casual messiness, work well to define character.
Emily Jackson clearly knows about pacing and finding subtext and had guided her cast accordingly.
Jessica, in the last analysis, is fun to watch, but not terribly deep.
Jessica (through August 6, 2017)
Sanguine Theatre Company
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event2954473
Running time: two hours including one intermission