“IN A WORLD… (Insert creepy Moviefone Voice Over)” of Bitmojis and Snapchat Filters, Tinder profiles, Fantasy Baseball and Netflix, I found The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence at Park Square Theatre, a refreshing production choice. The 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist, written by Madeleine George, addresses the current paradigm of human versus (human designed) artificial intelligence. As technology becomes a more and more necessary part of our daily lives, it is imperative to recognize the vital importance of waning human connection. We’ve seen several movies and television shows that confront the issue, but this is the first time I’ve seen this conflict successfully represented in a live theatre setting. It makes sense that it would be easier to use technology to represent real life, than have live theatre represent technology.
The themes in Watson spark a lot of controversy and conversation. People today are afraid of a real human connection, it’s easier to sacrifice that potential than risk the emotional hurt. We look at films like FIGHT CLUB, HER and THE IMITATION GAME and it seems safer to choose artificial Intelligence. This script puts this idea front and center and calls the question...what’s better? a guaranteed calculated companion, or flesh, blood and bone, with opinion, uncontrolled feelings and inevitable “human error?” Ultimately we have to choose.
In Ms. George’s script “Watson” represents several different fictional/nonfictional characters over the past century or so, (some with a heartbeat, some inanimate), who have all established important resumes and relationships in their respective time periods. It is a clever look at how technology has evolved. The time changes are a little confusing at first (although all are listed in the program), and once I settled in, I loved how Costume Designer, Kathy Kohl, used a blurring of period pieces from one quick change to the next. They help transition from generation to generation with inspired effectiveness. The set is also very cleverly used and helps facilitate the many (maybe too many) scenes. That said Director, Leah Cooper, has used all design elements, including costumed stage hands and funky music, to make those transitions as entertaining and interesting as possible.
The story is tricky. The constant shift between storyline and timeline is a challenge for actors but, Adam Whisner, (the bicentennial comedic villain, MERRICK), does this with ease and charm. He is a natural in whatever time period he is thrown into. The other two actors H. Adam Harris and Kathryn Fumie are also very proficient in their several roles. The small cast embracing the different characters is, all in all, impressive.
I could get nit-picky about a few things that may have read as odd character choices, some inconsistencies between time hops, and one seriously false ending, but I feel that the most important thing is, that for a piece that clocks in over two hours including the 20-minute intermission, I stayed focused, entertained and left with a lot to talk about. To me that is a successful night at the theatre. I applaud Park Square for choosing this play and after reading more about Ms. George I look forward to what timely, controversial topic she tackles next.
The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence is playing at the Park Square Proscenium Stage through the end of the month. Get your tickets now.