Sunday, June 28, 2015

Review: The Cyborg Future

The future is upon us. The rise of technology has proven that the world is ever-changing and the capabilities are boundless. What was once science fiction is becoming science fact. In Citizen Cyborg, a stage version of the James Hughes book, an enthusiastic ensemble takes the audience on a journey to a future where the next class of citizens are robots.
Adapted for the stage from the book of the same name, Citizen Cyborg is a series of vignettes and audience addresses that tackle the technological near future of the next generation of citizens. By blending mask work with mashups of Shakespearean and Greek texts, Citizen Cyborg takes the audience on an ambitious eye-opening expedition. From the start, the fourth wall is broken. The ensemble mingles with the audience prior to the first line, the dressing room area is completely exposed, and the masks are placed on chairs to encourage handoffs. Without warning, the transmission begins and a fast paced flurry of definitions are tossed into the room. Broken up into three short "acts", what occurs next are the theatrical vignettes where well known characters and themes are replaced with Hughes' thesis of the future. Director Neal Utterback established a physical vocabulary with his ensemble that allowed a cohesive dialogue with the audience. The physical theater nature of the piece is strong. The simplicity of the staging allows for the thesis to take the focus. That being said, some of the masks were a bit restricting in vocal clarity as dialogue muddied tone. The piece remains moving allowing space to be virtually nonexistent. The moments of air are deliberate, allowing the audience a moment to digest.
photo courtesy of Ethan Farell
The way into this world is through the youthful acting ensemble. They are an assertive bunch eager to share a warning of the future. They bring a mesmerizing sense of devotion and commitment even if they may not comprehend every word they recite. With the piece merging the world of character and actor, some of the best moments came through the direct addresses where they were given the opportunity to share their hopes, fears, and beliefs. One of the most beautiful moments of vulnerability came from Jamison Monella, who also gave a strong showing throughout. Monella is an actor that in time could have a bright future.
Due to the nature of the piece, Citizen Cyborg treads that fine line of hokey experimental theater that gets parodied on “SNL”. With a group of growing actors, there were times that came off as unintentionally humorous. The basic black shirt, no shoes, and jeans uniform were a bit too on point, aiding into the hokey nature. Though the paired down approach Utterback took did work well with the festival confines. He used the space properly, benefiting from the diagonal, and kept the various worlds consistent through lighting looks. What did bring the production up to a new standard was the live music created by Gabriel Gould. The soundtrack blended electronic sounds into an underscore that kept the stakes high.
Citizen Cyborg is a piece of political theater that provokes great talking points. It's ambitious and brave and happens to be wonderfully prevalent.