Saw two plays this past weekend, both of them fun and interesting.

“Poona” actually has a special place in my heart. While the show actually premiered 10 years ago at Open Circle Theatre, I saw the production in my hometown of Columbia, SC when I was in college. A group of friends had created a late nite performance troupe that produced shows with Trustus Theatre. I wasn’t sure what to expect initially, and found myself in tears because I was laughing so hard. “Poona” is exactly as it is advertised — an adult fairy tale. Poona, the main character, is a fuck dog, and is desperately in search of someone to play inside her pink box. She meets a handsome prince and wants to go away with him and be his only fuck dog, but he of course is stuck up and doesn’t see her value. She ends up becoming a famous athlete, runs into lots of old friends, saves some aliens who are stuck in the play, etc.

This version at Open Circle had, I think, some new material. There were quite a few scenes I was unfamiliar with, although I grant I don’t quite remember everything that happened in the Trustus version. I am glad, though, that the playwright revisited the script and updated it a little, because it makes the play much more dynamic, and worth seeing several times at several different theatres.

This particular production posed a couple of problems for me: mainly, the people sitting next to me were very drunk and tended to talk about the play loudly, as it was happening. They didn’t say anything insulting about the play, they seemed to really enjoy themselves, but it was distracting. There were a couple of actors who also seemed to not know their lines very well — I don’t know if they got distracted by this annoying group of drunks, or if they just didn’t learn some of their longer speeches, but that was also distracting when compared to the controlled, intentional chaos of the rest of the play. But, I thoroughly enjoyed the actor who played the Shrub/Retarded Frog, the actor who played Rabbit/Fair Godphallus/singer/assorted characters, the Salesman/assorted characters, and the woman who played Cunt the Alien/assorted characters. They had form stage presences and took themselves very seriously as their ridiculous characters, which is always funnier than playing for laughs or knowing your joke is funny.

This show, by the way, is a great way to get to know your date. I took my boyfriend, who comes with me to see about 1/3 of the plays I see, and other than the annoying drunks, he liked it. Now, I know him pretty well at this point, but I do think the show would be a great way to test someone, on a second date or something, to see if the two of you really mesh. Rude surprises are great like that *evil cackle*.

The next night, I went to see “When I Come to My Senses, I’m Alive” at Annex. Just caught the last show, too. Once again, terribly late with my review. It was a good show, overall. Basically, Annique (the main character) is a scientist-turned-internet-artist who has created a way of recording emotions into computer files and transferring the emotional experience to someone else. She refers to her experiment as “mapping the emotional genome,” which is a point I could quibble with, but gives the show a modern pseudo-scientific feel so I understand why the playwright went there. Annique has started releasing these emotion files onto a blog, and also sells a kit to create your own helmet so you can experience her emotions. She’s become internet famous, and the show starts with a major TV network trying to buy the entire concept from her to become part of a marketing campaign for a low-brow action/melodrama TV series. She refuses, of course, out of loyalty to her project and her fans. It turns out, however, that there’s a rogue emotion file that is rapidly becoming intelligent life (strongly reminded me of Jane from the Ender Series), who is basically a chunk of Annique’s personality that has fused with the internet somehow. Every time Annique releases an emotion file — and half-way through the show, some secret emotion files are stolen and released as black mail by the Major TV Network — “Ann”, the artificial intelligence, grows. Ann eventually breaks away from Annique and goes in search of two other forms of artificial intelligence that inhabit the internet, Mad Dog and The Sleeper. The Sleeper it turns out is the US Government’s first attempt at artificial intelligence that goes completely awry, and Mad Dog was created to hunt The Sleeper down and destroy it. Both of these intelligences have become too powerful, and Ann is used to destroy The Sleeper. The battle is quick, and Ann goes into hiding so the Government won’t use her again. A rogue government agent, who has become a contract PI, is intially hired to blackmail Annique and her crew, but is called in by the Government to use this AI to destroy the Sleeper, and when it is over the agent secures false identities for Annique and Mickey, who are the brains behind the emotion clip project.

Not a lot of the play is explained — the AI battles just sort of … happen, and seem to be a separate chunk of the plot from the emotion clip argument. The show starts as an ethical dilemma about what it means to be an artist vs. what it means to create entertainment (Annique has begun to think of herself as an artist, because she can literally convey her emotional experiences to her viewers, while most artists use mediums like poetry, painting, or theatre). The show rapidly turns into a classic happy-ending melodrama after that, with the AI battle and the secret identities and the shadowy government figures and true love between Annique and Mickey. I was a lot less satisfied with this aspect of the show than I was with the actual discussion portions. I love the comparison between “famous” and “internet famous,” and I think a lot of the script serves as an interesting mirror to the culture we live in. I wish the shadowy government and the AI’s had been explained in more detail and not just accepted, but the show only ran for 2 hours (not including intermission) so I understand that time constraints were not on the playwright’s side. But I do wish there had been more “revealing” of the plot, more “unfolding” — I feel like most of it just sort of “happened.” No reason, no questions, it just did. The only person who asked questions was Cicily, and it seemed like that only came up because she wasn’t a computer nerd and was representative of the audience’s questions at that point in the play.

Anyway, it was a good show, I definitely enjoyed it, but I wished for more at certain points.

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