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Theater Review – ROBOTS VS. FAKE ROBOTS

15 Jun

Robots press photo 2

I admittedly attended Walking Shadow’s regional premiere of Robots vs. Fake Robots this past weekend with relatively low expectations from a play with such a title – It sounds like an easy concept, right? 

And having seen it, I can attest to it being a simple concept, yes, but also surprisingly poignant, occasionally startling, and an unmitigated success.  

Working from the fairly recent (first performed in 2008) new script written by young L.A. playwright David Largman Murray, the play envisions a future set in the year 6000 in which robots – sexy robots – rule the Earth.  The few humans who remain alive have little left to hold on to but their humanity, as the robots refuse to have anything to do with them due to their mammalian scent.  At the heart of the thing, if you cut through the smoky dystopian outer shell, is a remarkably simple little story about two humans, Joe (an excellent John Catron) and Sammie (a heartfelt portrayal from Lindsay Marcy).  They are, or at least were once, in love.  As we meet them, Joe has began to fantasize about the robots, so much so that the only way he can find his partner arousing is when she pushes the “robot fetish” button.  

And who wouldn’t react in such a way?  The androids of Robots vs. Fake Robots are a culmination of vapidity, runway beauty, pop culture as understood by Paris Hilton and American Idol, and very very sexy.  They also intermittently break into sexy robot dance (choreography by Ariel Dumas, also one of the robots) that is both off-putting and hilarious.  They can smell however they want – and Joe wants to be one, or at the very least, sleep with one, although he hasn’t any idea of how to go about it, as humans have never witnessed robot sex; they only know that it is infinitely more interesting and sexy than their own awkward attempts. 

The genuine joy of the production is not the play however – it is the players.  The acting is uniformly solid, and the company seems to enjoy working and playing with each other – they operate as a finely honed ensemble, each complimenting each other, and with no one hogging the spot light.  There are a few who try to over-work the wonky robot text a bit, but for the most part they attack the action with relish, moving the show quickly along to an unexpected climax.  Especially fantastic is the work of Nathan Surprenant as Kneepad, the robot king.  His performance evoked (for me) a mash-up of Rocky Horror Picture Show and the movie Blade Runner in a completely effortless and transfixing manner. 

There are some holes to be sure – the script is a little clunky in places, and there’s some confusion as to the “rules” of the world – who can touch what (the humans are warned not to touch the robots lest they be killed, and the robots “never” touch the humans nor other aging and diseased robots – a staging conundrum mostly ignored by the director), but these are minor complaints.  

Overall, if you came to see dancing sexy robots, you’ll leave happy.  If you came to see the excellent work of the actors, you’ll also leave happy.  If you came just because the title sounded interesting, you should be completely satisfied and then some.  If you don’t often see work on the smaller stages of the Twin Cities, this is a perfect introduction to some of the fine young actors working in the city today.  Go see it. 

There is a pay-what-you-can showing TONIGHT, June 15th at 7:30 pm, and the show runs through Saturday, June 27th at the Cedar Riverside People’s Center.  Go to www.walkingshadowcompany.org or call 612-375-0300 for tickets and dates.

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