Saturday, November 23, 2013

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
No one can accuse playwright Madeleine George of lack of ambition for her new work at Playwrights Horizons. The action, set in 1876, 1889, 1931 and 2011 with three actors playing multiple roles, alternates time periods and characters in rapid succession. We are presented with four Watsons -- Alexander Graham Bell's assistant; Shelock Holmes's sidekick; Jerry Watson, a present-day computer repairman, and a supercomputer based on IBM's, reprogrammed to be empathetic. All are played by the delightful John Ellison Conlee. The talented Amanda Quaid plays Eliza, the supercomputer's creator; Mrs. Merrick, a troubled Victorian wife who consults Holmes's Watson; and an unnamed BBC interviewer. David Costabile, master of high dudgeon, appears as Merrick, a Tea Party-style politician and ex-husband of Eliza; a mysterious Victorian inventor also named Merrick, and Alexander Graham Bell. Present-day Merrick inadvertently brings ex-wife Eliza and Jerry together with surprising results. Some of the ideas touched upon are dependency and the fear thereof, usefulness, and the downside of finding a soulmate. The alternation of times, locations and characters is greatly assisted by  Louisa Thompson's amazingly flexible set and Anita Yavich's excellent costumes. Playwright George successfully keeps her juggling act going through the first act and into the second, before she drops the ball with a thud. The play whimpers to an end, which is all the more disappointing since it started with such promise. Director Leigh Silverman keeps things moving along smoothly until the play trips over its own cleverness. In what my sound like a left-handed compliment, let me say that even the plays that fall short at Playwrights Horizons fail in interesting ways. Running time: two hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

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