San Diego, CA—From the legend of Ponce de Léon to Botox injections, to implants to add ons to reductions to human cloning, the quest for eternal youth has become a million dollar industry. In fact in Thomas Gibbons’ new work “Uncanny Valley” now in a rolling premiere production at The San Diego Repertory Theatre downtown through May 10, Julian (Nick Cagle) slapped down a few million dollars to reimage and preserve the best of him for centuries to come. That’s high stakes eternal youth.
Julian is dying of pancreatic cancer and one way of his extending his life expectancy is to ‘download’ the contents of his brain into an artificial human that carries his DNA. He will be forever 34 with no illnesses to worry about. The machine will allow his identity to live in his surrogate body for—ever?
Forget that once the ‘download’ (of his brain and life’s experiences, i.e. a major corporation type) is complete, he will be younger than his son, have more drive than most, will most likely be smarter than most and probably have fewer moral limits, but I get ahead of myself.
Several years back The Old Globe mounted Rolin Jones’ “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow”. It tells the story an adoptive 22-year-old young genius, growing up in China who wants to meet her biological mother who lives in the States. She has obsessive-compulsive disorder and is afraid to leave her house so she creates a robot replica of herself to make the trip.
That was in 2006. There are other examples of androids, clones and especially robotic limbs working and taking the place of those casualties due to war and disease… terrorism.
Fast-forward to the 21st, century, 2042, and neuroscientist Claire (Rosina Reynolds). She has spent her life’s work creating a non-biological beings for a for profit corporation. In a creative and somewhat WOW opening of the Rep’s “Uncanny Valley” we see Julian, well, we see Julian’s head and torso looking almost like it is coming out of the laptop computer looking like a space cadet, but his torso is in fact on a platform base.
We are in Clair’s upscale office (Robin Sanford Roberts) and Julian is ‘emerging’ under Clair’s watchful eye. He’s still an artificial human. “Open your eyes, Julian.” “Open your mouth.” “Raise your eyebrows.” “Smile.” And so it begins.
Looking in at the beginning and following Julian’s progress was, for yours truly, something like an exercise in watching a time lapsed growth of an embryo to a full sized baby in slow motion until… Julian emerges as a very handsome whole young man, well groomed, fast study and easily likable. As his movements become less jerky and more evenly defined, one would be easily fooled unless one came in at the start. Along with his honed in to perfection robotic physical skills he also develops many human characteristics that are as unsettling as they are convincing, a phenomenon that, it is said, to be normal, first revulsion than acceptance. Nonetheless, he was still manufactured in the USA and that’s where the waters get muddied, his manufacture.
Somewhere in Julian’s transition from caterpillar to butterfly, Clair’s image and attitude from protective mother, teacher, and well-respected professional evolves to a more intimate friendship and confidant. Before we know it, a non-professional rapport develops between the two.
For most of her adult life, Clair and her now deteriorating into dementia husband have been at the forefront of this new technology. Julian is not her first clone. She has transitioned three others before him so she pretty much knows the ropes. But all is not kosher this time around in her neatly packaged high end office.
As her newly acquired friendship begins and talk about Julian’s son and heir come up, questions about selective memory surface. Ethical questions confront her on levels she is not quite ready for. After all, the sum total of Julian and what’s downloaded into his brain are only as good as the information he allowed into his computer to be downloaded. She is dismayed to learn that conflicts between father and son’s take on things differ greatly.‘Nuff said!
When his ‘download is complete and he now becomes the person he would like to be, he leaves the campus to get on with his new life. However in an unexpected no-no turn about, (to prevent psychological contamination) he comes back to her office for one last visit.
He has lost some of his at first sight charm. He is more challenging and, crossing the line, begins to interfere in her personal life in a way she never saw coming. He is now what he intended when he signed up for this experiment, a high-powered broker, a strong-armed professional CEO type that unnerves Clair to distraction.
With two absolutely wonderfully adept actors, Reynolds and Cagle, with Jessica Bird’s taught directing Gibbons’ play veer’s off into some uncanny territory that no one would have imagined. Both actors grasp the urgency their characters’ lives in this ready-made futuristic happening and convince immediately.
Reynolds, at first glance, professional instruction makes her role as teacher easier to understand yet as the relationship softens and becomes more personal, her demeanor artfully swings away from mentor to concern, anger and disbelief.
She has the know how to make things happen but she steps over the professional line, for some reason. That takes her into unchartered territories, and therein lies her undoing. (Michael Hunt Souza’s stunning costume design suits her figure to a T)
Cagle is amazing as he goes through the paces of learning to adjust in his mechanical body only to emerge as the alpha male taking charge of Clair’s life in one fell swoop. His turn about also is well timed and done to perfection.
Uncanny as it may all seem, and as questions stir the audience upon exiting we get the picture, the future of science fiction is here to stay now.
Imagine what Mary Shelley would say about this phenomenon?
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through May 10th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Sci-Fi/Drama
Where: 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $31.00
Venue: Lyceum Space