Friday, September 20, 2013

Review - stop.reset.

Last night, I went back to my home-away-from-home, Signature Theatre, to see my second subscription play: stop.reset., by Regina Taylor.  I've been a huge fan of Regina Taylor's acting over the years, but this is the first time I've seen a play that she's written (and directed, as it turns out).  The reason I selected this particular date was because there was a talkback scheduled after the performance.  I do love a talkback.
When you walk into the theater, the set is consumed with text - words are everywhere, on the walls, the set pieces, everywhere.  One wall is completely covered with books.  There are many interesting things to read and try to absorb, plus there's a call to tweet your opinions after the performance.  I enjoyed reading much of the material (I've even put a couple of the books on my reading list), plus I found the projections and video interesting and the sound design very evocative.  My seat neighbor kept getting confused by the sound and would stand up and look around to see where it was coming from. As always, the production photos are taken from the internet and my standard disclaimer applies (I think all these photos were taken by Joan Marcus).

stop.reset. is set in the offices of a Chicago publishing house, which specializes in African-American literature.  As each employee enters the office, you can see that they are tense about something.  We discover that today is the day one of them is going to be let go.  I found much of the office politics very compelling, though the fact that each employee was rather a stock character and didn't seem to have much more than surface-y things going on was a bit troubling.  Carl Lumbly plays the owner of the publishing house, and he is stuck between keeping the status quo and figuring out a way to move into the future.

The future is represented by the character J., who is first seen as a janitor in the office, but it's quickly apparently something else is going on with his character.  I started to think he was an avatar in a video game come to life, but I'm not quite sure that's what Taylor was going for.  stop.reset. is a play that takes a serious look at how ever-moving-forward technology is making current forms, like books, irrelevant.  It's an intriguing premise and one I think about a lot, to be honest.  I find new technologies interesting, but sometimes it feels as if they're taking over lives and making everything so impersonal.  I think that Taylor is trying to walk a path between finding the idea of losing ourselves to technology repellent, but yet finds it an interesting notion to consider if it makes the categorizations by race/gender/sexuality phase out of society with the impersonalization of everything.  Uh, does that even make sense?

I found the more concrete, interpersonal connections more compelling than the technological arguments, so maybe I'm the perfect test case for this play.  :)   Carl Lumbly, when he's rhapsodizing about books - their feel, their smell, their (seeming) permanence - is very moving.  Each of the employees, when they're trying to keep their jobs, make understandable mistakes and have situations that were familiar to me.  But I found the moving into more surreal territory imagining what we can do with technology a little harder to grasp. 

Ultimately, I think I just felt overwhelmed by everything that was happening in this play.  I felt as if there were too many topics being thrown at me (ageism, sexism, racism, technology, infinity), but maybe that's the point.  Maybe the future will just be information being thrown around and you glom onto what interests you.  I guess when I'm a captive audience, and I'm not doing the legwork for myself, I need a little more order.  But that could just be me.

The talkback afterwards was wonderful and very illuminating.  A few of the actors took questions from the audience and their answers were all very thoughtful and actually pretty helpful in untangling a very tangled (for me) play.  I do wish Regina Taylor had been able to be there too - I think it would've been so interesting to hear her thought process on some of the choices she made.  But one of the actors mentioned that he thought she perhaps intentionally wrote the play to be a bit ambiguous, for audiences to be able to take different things away with them.  That's admirable, but maybe there were just a few too many choices for my taste.  I was certainly interested throughout much of the play, but I'm just not sure what it added up to.

I was happy to see a very diverse audience, unlike when I was at NYTW last week, where nearly everyone in the audience looked a lot like me.  Which surprised me.  It was nice to see a more diverse crowd and a lot of people stayed for the talkback and actually asked some pointed questions.  Sometimes at these things, the first question you get is, how do you learn all those lines?!  I'm pleased to report no one asked that question.  Yet another thumbs up for Signature Theatre.  I'm already looking forward to my next trip there...

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