Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
April 24, 2015
Immortality – would you choose it if you could? And if you did, would you want all your knowledge and personality in a computer system for eternity – or reconstituted in a perfect simulation of yourself? At what age would you want to be replicated? Would your avatar have all the rights of any human?
These are some of the provocative – and troubling – questions raised in “Uncanny Valley,” by Thomas Gibbons. The title refers to the instinctive reaction to human simulations: the more lifelike, the more fascination gives way to repulsion.
It’s 2042. Claire, a scientist, is training her fourth mind clone robot.
At first, startlingly, Julian is just a head on a desk. Scene by scene, he acquires parts and skills. It’s thrilling watching him develop – how much knowledge he already has, how quickly he learns – about humor, nostalgia and feeling, which he can describe but not sense.
His creation is complete when he takes on the life and persona of a wealthy, 76 year-old, businessman, dying of pancreatic cancer which, like Alzheimer’s, has still not been eradicated. The new Julian is robust, attractive, in his mid-30s.
He flouts protocol to come back and visit Claire. In his well-tailored suit, he’s less charming: arrogant and narcissistic, fluent in corporate-speak. What had been an enthralling experiment suddenly turns into a terrifying reality.
Gibbons casts his net too wide, posing many questions, taking no sides, providing no answers. The details of Claire’s personal life seem intrusive and unnecessary.
At the San Diego Rep, the scenic and sound design are excellent. Under Jessica Bird’s taut, well-paced direction, Rosina Reynolds and Nick Cagle are superb. A very human scientist, she’s getting a glimpse into the Uncanny Valley. Cagle is a wonder, thoroughly mastering Julian’s jerky moves and acute curiosity.
In a discussion of Artificial Intelligence, things inevitably turn dark. Just how far should we go with this?
The National New Play Network has chosen this drama for a ‘rolling world premiere.’ That means audiences around the country will have their sleep disturbed by this unsettling piece of theater.
“Uncanny Valley ” runs through May 10, at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.
©2015 PAT LAUNER