Fantasies for the Information Age
Southside Theater is a tiny black box theater in Building D of Fort Mason, just across the hall from the Magic Theater, another favorite venue the Bay Area’s up-and-coming playwrights and practitioners of experimental theater. For the past two weekends this July, Southside Theater has been home for the The Easily Distracted Theater’s ‘Foresight: A Two Act Drama for the Information Age.’
This first play by the young and entrepreneurial Ruben Grijalva delved engagingly into questions of life, death and technology’s dream of unlimited factual time and space. A dream that flickers, ultimately, around the steely question of immortality.
The play opens with the introduction of a new form of software, Web Johnny, a kind of artificial intelligence captured on your local widescreen computer. Soon after the CEO of the software company appears to extol the virtues of Web Johnny (Truckee Lynch) in a scaled-down version of Steve Jobs’ highly performative marketing presentations at Apple.
Like Jobs, CEO Victor Martinez (GreyWolf) is diagnosed with a fatal disease. Unlike Jobs, his demise is definitive, and his reaction is to reconfigure his Web Johnny software so that his mind and personality continue after the death of his body. Dying, for him, is a matter of “shortsightedness,” of not planning ahead or using the technology at hand.
Hand-in-megabyte with a software program that materializes electronic impulses into real world objects and things, the virtual Victor becomes the benign electronic overseer of his own family.
My heart belongs to my virtual Daddy
All is well until Victor’s wife, Lorena (Sarah Shoshana David), finds that an electronic presence is cold comfort for either emotional or sexual needs. The family disintegrates on their daughter’s 13th birthday, when Lorena’s lover (Jarrod Pirtie) comes to dinner and the question of revealing all to daughter Shelley (Luisa Frasconi) looms large on the family stage, which includes Victor’s adoring and delusional mother (Angelina Llongueras). For the electronic Victor is really a kind of golem like the eponymous character in Mary Shelley’s book ‘Frankenstein’—Victor’s birthday gift, in a facsimile first edition, to his daughter—and as such a kind of monster who is detached enough from human emotional life to cause real havoc and pain in the family.
The question becomes: Who is going to unplug Victor, and how?
The play uses real-time image rendering along with slides and film footage to portray Victor and create shifts in time as the story moves between various then–and-nows. And it’s rather fun to watch the disembodied head of Victor as it follows the actions of his family and comments wryly on their behavior. The character of Victor as a rather curmudgeonly voyeur works well to add the correct ironic feel to the script.
Now if they would only produce software and computers that didn’t need updating every six months …
Photo: Maria (Angelina Longueras), Shelley (Luisa Frasconi), Victor (Grey Wolf, on the screen), and Lorena (Sarah Soshana David) gather around the remains of Victor’s body in the Easily Distracted Theatre’s production of Ruben Grijalva’s ‘Foresight.’ Photo by John Donley.