“Part One: Orbiting the Cusp of Greatness” by Craig Erickson; “Interlude” by Kevin Kerr, Georgina Beaty, Naomi Sider, and Veronique West; “Part Two: Transcendence” by Kevin Kerr. Directed by David Hudgins. An Electric Company Theatre production. At the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre on Saturday, June 15. Continues until June 29
You’ve got to admire You Are Very Star for its daring. It aims high. But two of its three elements—two plays and a game—fall far short of the mark and the third delivers only intermittently.
The artists in this Electric Company Theatre production use multiple spaces in the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre (aka the Planetarium) to explore notions of transcendence and modernity, especially as they relate to scientific advances.
In the first scripted piece, Craig Erickson’s “Part One: Orbiting the Cusp of Greatness”, a UBC creative writing professor named Douglas attempts to launch a cult on December 21, 1968, the same day that NASA is launching the Apollo 8 space mission.
Although Douglas is in love with the idea of freedom, it’s clear from the beginning that he’s also a fraud: he talks a radical line about innovation in education, but his classes never concretely address the subject of writing, he hits on his female students relentlessly, and he’s racist.
So what’s the point? That ’60s idealism, as embodied by Douglas, was superficial, cowardly bullshit? If so, that’s awfully reductive. And if the statement is just about Douglas, the character isn’t complex enough for it to matter. As the play’s events jump backward in time—for no apparent reason—through nonaffairs and fruitless arguments, the script fails to find a coherent narrative.
Fortunately, Michael Rinaldi brings his one-of-a-kind deadpan to the role of Douglas, Kathleen Duborg is reliably transparent as a student named Winnie, and Dalal Badr makes Rachel, another student, feel real and grounded.
A whole bunch of people—Georgina Beaty, Kevin Kerr, Naomi Sider, and Veronique West—created the evening’s second major unit, “Interlude”. It’s a scavenger hunt that the audience is invited to play at the intermission. Unfortunately, it’s hard to figure out—on opening night, several players had a heck of time following their maps—and it’s not much fun. Supposedly, participants are exploring the interface between digital and analogue media, but frankly it’s not that interesting to receive a call on a payphone from somebody who’s talking on their cell.
“Part Two: Transcendence”, which Kerr wrote with story assistance from Sarah Sharkey, is by far the evening’s most successful component. In this script, which is set in 2048, Ava, one of the 100,000 “augmented” people on planet Earth, longs to understand her human roots. But she finds it hard to get her enhanced mental capacity to slow down enough to communicate with ordinary humans, including Starr. That’s the old woman who hopes to tell Ava more about her father, Neil, the leader of the cyborg experiment.
Because Ava is pursuing a clear goal—getting in touch with Dad—this script holds together much better than “Part One” does. And playwright Kerr has fun with the notion of hyperintelligence. When two of the augmented folks have an argument, flinging ideas at one another with little nods of their heads, the only spoken words we hear are “buts” and “ands”.
“Transcendence” takes place in the Star Theatre and its setting is by far the coolest. (“Part One” rolls out in a downstairs auditorium and “Interlude” spreads out over public spaces on two floors.) As the audience lounges in semireclining chairs, enormous projections flood the theatre’s dome. And in a particularly effective passage, we see through the dome’s permeable surface and watch a scene unfold on the other side.
Designer Naomi Sider tops her white costumes with starkly lit headpieces. And the cast—notably Patti Allan, who plays Starr here—continues its excellent work.
But what does “Transcendence” add up to? The point seems to be that technology can be alienating, while more direct forms of communication, including touch, are comforting. Yes. And?