Directed by Max Pappenheim
Pros: Well-fleshed out drama chronicling the highs and lows of adolescence complimented by a solid cast and highly original staging.
Cons: A tad repetitive in places and occasionally suffering from a case of over-inflated teenage angst.
Our Verdict: Provocative, snappy dialogue from a bright emerging American playwright who is definitely a talent to keep an eye on.
Bekah Brunstetter has a knack for creating the kind of dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in a Quentin Tarantino film. It is often bleak and morose but still deliciously witty and, for those with a penchant for black comedy, a perfect case in point: a scene where one of the teenage characters declares to an Artificially Intelligent student in her school “You’re a toaster with boobs, bitch”.
This play deals with the trials of a group of students in a progressive Charter school in New York City who, apart from dealing with the everyday problems of youth, are cast into the limelight of a reality TV programme documenting their every interaction with two A.I. students recently introduced to their school. Essentially this is a play about the growing pains of city kids. The issues they deal with are pretty standard fare in the world of adolescent drama: drugs, broken hearts, sex, sexual identity, parental pressure, anxiety about the future, religion, love. The exciting thing here is that the A.I. students, who are so lovingly referred to as ‘Robots’ by their peers, eventually begin to acquire more human traits. As the play progresses, they find themselves on the same journey as their classmates.
The characters are essentially archetypal: jock, high school beauty, musician, gay actor, religious and repressed, troubled and anxiety-ridden. However, they are made wholly three-dimensional by the writing and by the well cast young actors. The two ‘robot’ kids are played with such zeal by Lisa Caruccio Came and Dan Crow that it was almost scary. In a good way, of course.
The set is a perfect representation (albeit on a much smaller scale) of a high school basketball court. The actors complete their set changes with well defined and often stylised movements to an original composition of modern techno music. The use of the voiceover (the reality television producer filming their every move) is highly imaginative and often menacing.
Whilst the idea of having artificially intelligent characters as a metaphor for figuring out who you are in high school is exciting, the idea is not quite arresting enough to be able to sustain itself for an hour and a half. And that is a shame. The problem is that we’ve seen and heard all these arguments before and a 90-minute show dealing with stereotypical teenage issues is a bit too much like watching numerous self-devised GSCE drama performances.
Saying that however, the director (Max Pappenheim) along with the designer (Susannah Henry) have done a brilliant job of making the world of the school come alive in the tiny space of the Finborough
. Additionally, the movement director (Lucy Cullingford) is to be commended on helping to keep the actors move the show along at a snappy and constant pace. The use of simple props such as wooden benches to suggest the gym locker rooms and mini dance interludes to suggest the passing of time are simple, effective and highly theatrical.
However, the standout feature in this play for me is the dialogue: so many truisms. “It’s best to own ones’ qualities and not exhibit shame”, “Grab hold of your life and stop it running away”… there are too many to write here.
If this play, like the AI programme, is about what one character refers to as “lambasting stereotypes” then it doesn’t quite accomplish its purpose. But if this play is about the nature of judgement and the threat of further technological advancement then it’s pretty much almost there. It would be perfect for those with a concern or interest in the next step of our human evolution.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Nothing is the End of the World (Except for the End of the World) runs at the Finborough Theatre until 8th June 2013.
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