This show has already been acclaimed by The Stranger and Seattle Weekly, two free weekly papers with huge readerships in Seattle. And I’ll throw in my acclaim. Is this show traditional theatre, with dialogue and stuff? Nope. Not at all. It’s more like interpretive dance meets crazy pop music video.
The set is a dizzying city-scape from the pavement up, straight out of Mirror’s Edge. The clothes are brightly-colored and streaked with white, the main character in a bright blue hoodie and acidwash jeans. The robots are in all black with re-purposed Storm Trooper helmuts. A rubix cube comes into play, as well as a beat-boxing robot, lots of dancing, slo-mo fighting, Andy Warhol-inspired film amalgamations, glitter batons, and an iPod. It’s borderline-overwhelming, a loving mash-up of scifi and pop culture references, stirred with a hint of Japanophilia.
Since it is basically a dance piece, I assume everyone got a slightly different version of the story, but my interpretation of the plot goes as follows: robots and humans coexist, but humans taunt the robots, in the kind of dance-fight the director of a bad production of West Side Story might be proud of. It’s intentionally cheesy, though, unlike productions of West Side Story. In the introductory scene, a neon-clad street punk drops a rubix cube, which a robot picks up and solves, then re-sets. The kid demands it back. Some fighting ensues, leaving a robot damaged. Another robot sees this, and suddenly, inexplicably, this robot feels. It feels compassion, even love, for its broken fellow, and anger, even hatred, for the human who did this. This robot passes its love to another robot. It then passes its hatred to a different robot. Hatred is much more infectious, it seems, and the robots continue to spread this feeling of violence to other robots, until finally, a robo-dog is infected.
This robo-dog is owned by a pair of the neon-clad street punks, and their Mother. I put “Mother” as a proper noun because She is the embodiment of all mother/woman stereotypes. Played by an already tall actress in heels, this Mom has knock-off geisha makeup, a hair band with giant pink flowers, and a cocktail dress inspired by a cross between geisha, punk, and 1950’s housewife fashions. The dress is covered in teddy bears, I assume representing how comforting She is. While She is a human character, however, She moves like a robot — She does not look Her children in the eyes, Her movements are deliberate and precise and large. She’s about as comforting as Nurse Ratched.
Mom also has a drinking problem, like any good 1950’s stereotype mom. She leaves Her kids in the charge of robo-dog, whose violence manifests when Her back is turned — the dog snaps the daughter’s neck. What happens next is my favorite scene from the show. Mom turns around, discovers Her dead child, and, slowly, sorrow fills Her body — first, Her hands quake, much to Her surprise, followed by Her arms. She turns back to Her child, circling the body, and She screams, silently, heart-achingly. Brecht would have been proud.
She is filled with righteous indignation, and begins to recruit members for Her army to destroy the robots. Meanwhile, the robots are being infected more and more with their hatred of humans. Dance-violence ensues.
Meanwhile, our Heroine, the blue-hoodie-acidwash-denim-clad girl with giant headphones and an iPod, runs into a robot. Literally. She drops her iPod, which breaks. This robot just happens to be a medic robot, however, and with paddles it revives her iPod and hands it back to her. She smiles in thanks. Later, she runs into this same robot (after some pretty hilarious robot beat-boxing) and it hands her a flower and teaches her to dance. It’s love.
Unfortunately, our Heroine is destined for the human army. She resists Mom’s advances, at first, but has a painful vision in which she rises in the ranks and destroys some robots. So she joins. It turns out she’s the best slo-mo fighter and wins a glittery baton from Mom. She leads the humans on a robot raid. More dance fighting ensues.
Naturally, our Heroine runs into her robot love. They have second thoughts. But her robot lover is discovered to have human sympathies, and has its memory deleted. It rejoins the ranks of robot human-haters. More dance fighting. Meanwhile, our Heroine decides that the army isn’t for her, strips off her orange jumpsuit uniform to reveal her civilian clothes, and dashes off, only to find her true love brainwashed. Fortunately, circuits realign and it recognizes her, but she is killed by the robot army. Being a medic robot, it tries to revive her, to no avail, so it chooses to commit suicide.
Their love and tragic death, however, end the human-robot war. A dance party with pink balloons and confetti, stripping, and a teddy bear fight, finish the show.
I admit to being biased in this show’s favor. I have always been a scifi nerd, raised by scifi nerds, and I played lots of video games as a child, and I listen to electronica and house music and some of the more synthetic pop, and have a deep admiration for anyone who can beat box. This show is an amalgamation of the things that make up my nerdy life. Of course I’m going to enjoy it. Is it revolutionary? In its use of dance and music to tell a story, sure, sorta. I think Wagner would also have been proud, although there was no live singing. More importantly, I think it represents a generational shift in theatre, as “people my age” are becoming more influential. I think that’s what really makes it revolutionary — it’s on the other side of the line that’s been drawn in the sand by older, increasingly-conservative theatre goers. And that’s good. It’s time for a change. Does it revolutionize theatre? No, it’s still traditional in many aspects. But it’s a step in the right direction.