Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)

The Shop

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 14, 11 p.m.

Wednesday, July 17, 9:15 p.m.

Saturday, July 20, 10:45 p.m.

Friday, July 26, 5:45 p.m.

Saturday, July 27, 11:30 p.m.

They Say: "A play from the past, about the future. Rossum invents robots to do mankind's bidding. The robot business is booming until Helena, a robot activist, interferes. When the robots become self-aware, they rebel and take over – with mixed results."

Brett's Take: The dehumanization of the working class. The dream of a post-scarcity society through automation. The exponential increase in productivity thanks to technology. Nerds desperately competing for a woman's affection. This is R.U.R., Rossum's Universal Robots...a play written in 1921.

Naked Theatre Company—a troupe with an interesting, forward-thinking business model—makes an impressive debut with this production of the Karel Capek chestnut that introduced the word 'robot' (from a Czech root meaning 'slave'). The play is clearly of its time in many ways—the characters converse in weighty speeches, the melodrama piles up particularly toward the end, and it depicts the telegraph as co-existent with robots. And yet, the company makes the story feel completely of our time, too. Every cast member playing a human manages to turn the thick dialogue of scientists and philosophers into something someone could actually say today, and you find yourself liking them as people. In particular, Mike Rudden, as the leader of R.U.R.'s operations, Harry Domin, performs a minor miracle in turning the long-winded techno-socialist of the original play into a passionate, charismatic, Steve Jobs-like modern innovator.

Domin has a dream of freeing mankind from labor through the distribution of his company's robots. These "robots" are bioengineered creations in human bodies (their skin cooked up in vats, their nerves woven on spools). Despite being compliant and without affect, certain people start to feel they deserve human rights, especially Helena Glory (Shaina Higgins, rising above the script's outdated gender politics). She comes to the island where the R.U.R. factory is run by Domin and his half-dozen geeky compatriots, in isolation amongst thousands of robots, to attempt some sort of liberation. Domin and his fellow dreamers strive to convince Helena that their vision is a goodly one, and that they are prepared for what will happen when they try to replace people with robots. Things get complicated (more complicated) when the robots begin exhibiting emotions.

Although the script is the 1920 original, modern cellphones and tablets are used, as is modern dress (except for on Helena, sometimes), which can be confusing when the characters depend on mail ships to hear the news of the world. That's the only real quibble with an otherwise smooth enterprise. By dealing fairly with the creaky aspects of the original script, co-directors Rachel Murray and Cory Cunningham allow the melodrama to breathe without apologizing for it, and the play's surprising relevance shines through.

See it if: You prefer Star Trek: The Original Series.

Skip it if: You prefer Star Trek, the recent reboot.

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