KPBS AIRDATE: FEBRUARY 9, 2001
Man and machine. Two perspectives on a relationship gone awry. At North Coast Repertory Theatre, there’s “Defying Gravity,” a history/memory/fantasy about the Challenger Shuttle disaster. Downtown at the ReinCarnation Project, in what’s being called the Dairy-Aire Performance Space, there’s “Wireless City,” a futuristic, cyber-techno-carnival. Both pieces share a theme and a fatal flaw — there really isn’t a hint of subtlety in sight. Both have the best of intentions, even making psycho-political points. But in both cases, the message is buried under a pretty big heap of detritus.
“Wireless City” is the worse offender. Presumably intentionally, it is loud, repetitive and assaultive. After entering through a walkway whimsically lined with computer monitors, the audience stands or walks around the high-ceilinged warehouse space, while characters do and don’t interact with you, do and don’t scream out techno messages, and generally rage against the machine.
Wireless City, the program spells out for us, is a marketing scheme that sells people on a vision of tomorrow in which technology offers complete freedom: “connectivity without connection.” As we all know, that future is now. But here in Wireless City, everyone is hooked up to the Engine of Desire, a sexy woman crucified above us, strapped and wired, warning of and then executing the various divine downloads and upgrades: from Eros to Resurrection to Ascension, all on the way to The Great Convergence.
It is all less interactive than advertised, less groundbreaking than promised. And much longer than necessary. In this collaborative effort by Palomar College students, produced by Eveoke Dance Theatre, there are some very haunting images… Noelle, for instance, that Engine of Desire, Tori Kurzwell, the artificial woman, and Charlene Penner, the beautiful Butoh dancer, who makes her searing, silent way in and out of an Apple Computer box. With all its cutting-edge look, it still has a retro feel… and a timeworn message. But maybe those 20-somethings, who haven’t heard it before, really need to hear it now.
A fine reminder of techno-hubris and human error is the Challenger disaster. Playwright Jane Anderson goes after it with a vengeance, using gravity as her starting point, and giving us gravitas instead, offering a variety of 2-dimensional characters, each with a stock in the Cape Canaveral launch of 1986. Most of them are fairly well motivated, from the young girl who watches her teacher/mother go up — and blow up — in outer space, to the jaded ground crew member, to the retirees who drive their Winnebago cross country to watch the historical event. But no matter how hard she tries, Anderson can’t get Claude Monet to make a bit of sense here, weaving through the piece as he does, spewing lovely, lyrical lines.
The cast of seven gamely does their best, making multi-dimensional characters where there often aren’t any, and holding this choppy, episodic piece together as best they can, under the confident, creative hand of director Cynthia Stokes. In this case, as in “Wireless City,” the play is not the thing… But if it makes you think, then art and technology have linked up in inner space.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.