Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

R.U.R. & The Truth Quotient
By: Joel Benjamin
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Angelina Fiordellisi, Brian Tom O’Connor and Jarel Davidow in a scene from
The Truth Quotient
(Photo credit: John Kandel)

The Resonance Ensemble is presenting two plays with an interlocking theme: androids, good or evil? Richard Manley’s The Truth Quotient, a contemporary work, is paired in repertory with Czech playwright Karel Capek’s legendary 1922 play, R.U.R., in which the word “robot” first was used.

Set in “tomorrow or slightly thereafter,” The Truth Quotient is the sweeter of the two, a story of a very rich businessman’s attempt to satisfy his yearning to rewrite his life by populating it with human-seeming androids. David, the central character, the very rich executive, deals with a dysfunctional past by subscribing, at enormous expense, to a company which supplies him with cyborg copies of his parents and, for his personal pleasure, a nubile young lady. His liaison with this mysterious company is Rachel who continually communicates with him via an all-seeing/all-knowing digital connection. David’s happy little ménage is interrupted by a visit by his very real, very human brother, Donald, who wants to reconnect with his brother after many years of alienation. How his brother’s reaction affects David and makes him rethink of his choices is the gist of the play.

Mr. Manley keeps this story from straying into Twilight Zone territory by skillfully supplying subtle twists and an ending that is both surprising and perfectly apt. In the process he explores modern technology, all-knowing/all-seeing big business and human frailty. The Resonance Artistic Director, Eric Parness, manned this play with great subtlety. The father, mother and girlfriend androids are quite convincing as humans, spouting the intricate material downloaded into them by Rachel. Their only tiny sign of artificiality is a slight overly careful pronunciation of their lines. At times, David does have doubts about Rachel who chimes in whenever she wants to indicate updates or to guide David who is sometimes on the verge of total emotional collapse. Or, does she have ulterior motives in her eagerness to interfere in David’s story?

The cast serves Mr. Manley and Mr. Parness well. Jarel Davidow’s David is the classic nerd made good and his reactions to his brother, played by Maxwell Zener, are emotionally full spectrum. Zener’s Donald, sublimating too many heavy secrets, is moving in his attempt to get back into his brother’s life. As the all-knowing Rachel, Shaun Bennet Wilson, has a cool chic, elegance and control, all in a lovely calm package. Brian Tom O’Connor, Angelina Fiordellisi and Meredith Howard as Father, Mother and Caprice (the cutie “girl friend”) keep up the artifice of android-land with finesse.

Christine Bullen, Tyler Caffall and Kevin Bernard in a scene from R.U.R.
(Photo credit: John Kandel)

Karel Capek’s R.U.R. is a doom-laden work, quite prescient for one written in 1920, but a bit dated around the edges. As adapted by Lee Eric Schackleford and directed by Valentina Fratti, Capek’s script was streamlined and updated but couldn’t quite shake off a heavy-handedness, although it’s great to see a rarely revived classic staged with such great care.

R.U.R. stands for Rossum Universal Robots, the company, isolated on an island in the Pacific, run by the idealistic Henry Domin who is forced into the realization that the creations spewed out in his factory to help mankind have suddenly run amok. R.U.R. is held together by the character Josef Alquist, the maintenance director of R.U.R., whose recollections, interspersed between scenes, tell the tense tale of the fate of R.U.R., the scientists who ran it and the robots who changed the course of the world. The catalytic event of the play is the arrival of Domin’s wife, Helena, who represents the League of Humanity. It is she who observes the changes, the stirrings of revolt, in the domestic robots which preview the worldwide mutiny of the many thousands of artificial humans that R.U.R. has exported to the world to fight its wars and do menial tasks. The thoughtful way Capek writes each of the humans keeps the play from becoming schlock science fiction and keeps us rooting for humanity to survive, which, according to the playwright, it will.

Again, it is the actors who add emotional depth to even the slightest of characters and give richness to the evening. The characters Dr. Hallemeier and Dr. Gall are the closest thing to a comedy team in R.U.R. Mac Brydon and Kevin Bernard find enough dimensions in these two to keep these science geeks grounded, so that their undoing in the second act is all the more touching. As the initial robots to display mutinous tendencies, Jane Cortney as Sulla and Tyler Caffall as Radius, both coolly good-looking, keep their characters interesting to watch. As Helena, inadvertently caught up in the fray, Christine Bullen, the modern version of the maiden in distress, keeps her dignity as everything falls apart around her. Her husband Henry is played by Brad Makarowski who manages befuddlement and dignity with aplomb. The two innocent, third generation robots, Primus and Helenova (Sean Phillips and Meg Heus) are a bit too timid, but do manage a properly wide-eyed innocence. Chris Ceraso finds a deep world-weariness in Josef.

The two plays are performed in basically the same set designed by Jennifer Varbalow, a combination of white and grey verticals and horizontals. Even the furniture in both is grey and black. In The Truth Quotient, the furniture evokes an expensive co-op, while in R.U.R., the slick offices of the scientific lab. Sidney Shannon’s costumes for Quotient define the characters perfectly with their everyday details. Brooke Cohen has a larger cast to deal with in R.U.R. Her costume designs for the robots are very clever: padded black and white jumpsuits with silvery highlights and helmets to complete the picture. Her humans wear clearly defined future-wear, perfect for a play set in 2030. Pamela Kupper’s lighting provided mood with expert proficiency. The electronic beeps, bells and warbles of Nick Moore’s sound design were both clever and evocative of the technology on display in both shows.

The Resonance Ensemble combined these plays under the overall title of “Connecting Circuits.” Both plays should be seen as they enhance one another and provide insights into our clamor for more and more technology.

R.U.R. and The Truth Quotient (Performed in rotating repertory: January 9th – February 2nd, 2013)
Theater Row’s Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenues, in Manhattan
Tickets: call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
More Information: http://www.ResonanceEnsemble.org

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