KPBS AIRDATE: June 25, 2004
Robotics. Embryonic research. Sub-sonic sound. Science has firmly implanted itself on San Diego stages — and the results are often as brilliant as the science itself. Three new plays, three marvelous directors, three outstanding casts. The scientific method is working… and life is good in local theater.
This isn’t about didactic information exchange. All three plays are packed with humor as well as provocative personal and political dilemmas. Two of the inventors are young girl geniuses. Oddly enough, both have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
In Sledgehammer Theatre’s “Kid-Simple,” Moll creates a machine that hears sounds no human can hear. When it’s stolen by a nefarious boyfriend, she goes on a quest to retrieve her machine, heal her broken heart and save the sounds of the world. Sledge founder Scott Feldsher returns to mastermind a wildly imaginative production of Jordan Harrison’s “radio play in the flesh,” with a stellar cast including the hilarious David McBean and Brian Salmon and the adorably charismatic Jeannine Marquie. The evocative language, sound design and onstage noisemaking make for a unique multisensory experience.
“The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” is also a coming-of-age story. Sledgehammer’s artistic director Kirsten Brandt makes her Old Globe debut, helming this modern, foul-mouthed cyber-mystery. And what a delicious breath of youth it is. Subtitled ‘An Instant Message with Excitable Music,’ this amusing and unnerving Internet fantasy was penned by Gen-Xer Rolin Jones. At its center is the tiny dynamo Seema Sueko as the antic-frantic Jennifer Marcus who’s also on a quest — to find her birth mother in China. But her agoraphobia forces her to make the trip vicariously. Using spare military parts, she creates an alter-ego, an intelligent, thinking robot she names Jenny Chow. Brandt’s wonderful cast and marvelous inventiveness keep this online sci-fi/cyber-vision zipping along at warp speed. This youthful foray is a highly successful experiment for the Globe.
And then there’s “An Experiment with an Airpump,” named for an 18th century painting. English playwright Shelagh Stephenson has set her play on the cusp of two centuries, in 1799 and 1999. Each multi-talented cast member plays two antithetical roles — representing either passion or objectivity in the face of progress and scientific discovery. Director Robert May has cast a terrific ensemble, with especially striking performances by Ron Choularton, Robin Christ and the breathtaking, heartbreaking Jessica John. The play confronts not only ground-breaking science and its inevitable ethical dilemmas, but also the evolving role of women over time. A lovely, provocative play which pays homage to Tom Stoppard’s brilliant “Arcadia.” In many ways, it has more heart.
Once again, love meets science. Emotion meets reason. And all in the service of stirring, thought-provoking drama — with laughs thrown in. Make your own little experiment. See ’em all and compare.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.