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Heavy-duty science fiction production confuses, fascinates
|The Right Brain Project presents|
Review by Katy Walsh
Nuclear war destroyed civilization. A scattering of humankind survived. To continue to function, these individuals embraced machine transformation. But are they living? Or are they dead? What makes someone human? Memories? Emotion? Pain? Soul? The Right Brain Project presents the world premiere of The Archivist. The apocalypse happened. Four cyborgs work for The Man aka The Archivist. His directive is to travel back in time to save humanity. To perform the task, he has embraced a machine-like focus. His biggest experiment is the creation of human dolls. The human avatars will help him educate society to avoid the future annihilation. Things get confusing when he remembers snippets of his past. Recycled memories threaten the programming of the dolls to save the world. Is too much humanity tampering with rebirthing the population? It’s a little “Deep Space Nine” meets “The Terminator” in “The Fifth District.” The Archivist is a sci-fi geek’s dream. It’s an end-of-the-world scenario where the brainiac is the super hero.
As the ultimate ‘creator,’ Playwright Stephen Gawrit has written a complex fantasy. I get the overall prediction of future destruction. I understand the archivist’s directive. I buy into time travel. I’m just not sure what time it is currently. The addition of the human stories intrigues but also convolutes. My focus is torn. I feel like a futurist sifting through aftermath remains. I’m not sure how all the parts fit together before the explosion. Director Emma Peterson stages the story in an intimate setting. Upon arrival, non-speaking cyborgs escort guests into a holding chamber. It has a makeshift fallout shelter feel. Plastic drapes everything, and it’s hot. Luckily, the cyborgs have provided bottles of water. (They are pretty humane for non-humans.) A projected global media alert explains the doomsday scenario. The cyborgs then escort the guests into the main area. It’s a scene out of “Aliens,” with bodies encased in plastic. A wall of computer monitors provides ongoing visual stimulation. The archivist is fiddling with a dashboard of controls. A wired up women sits behind him. It’s a powerful visual by Set Designer Alexis Mitchell.
The capacity for the theatrical experience is approximately 16 audience members. There are 10 cast members. The set-up is personal and schoolroom-esque. There is a strong underlying premise for the guests to learn something ‘end it (mass destruction) through knowledge.’ The press opening is during the heat wave. The room has fans and limited air conditioner. It’s uncomfortable but mostly for the cast. Evan Hill (archivist) delivers poignant oratory drenched in sweat. Hill goes into regular seizures that – due to climatic conditions – seem too real. I want to save him. And when he lays his sweaty body on Meghan Phillipp (companion), I want to save her. Because of the tragic conditions, there is a lot to love about the passionate commitment of the cast. The cyborgs have a spooky unison. The dolls have distinct human qualities. Media Designer Samantha Tucker provides clips on the computer monitors. Although it adds another captivating dimension to the story, it also competes for attention. Somewhere in the middle, the computers go blank. I think it was unintended technical difficulty but it eliminates a distraction.
The Archivist is heavy-duty science fiction. The imaginative future fascinates as a compelling prophecy. It also confuses with how the past and present connect to it. For sci-fi diehards, it’s The Archivist convention waiting to happen. For regular humans, it’s like an intricate science project. I’m impressed but I don’t actually get how it works.
The Right Brain Project’s The Archivist continues through August 20th at RBP Rorschach, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $18 (suggested donation), with reservations highly recommended by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, . Cash and checks are accepted at the door. More information at TheRBP.org. Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
behind the scenes