- OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic
“Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity” ― James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time”
Whether or not we are truly human has been in question since one of the two Judeo-Christian creation myths sported Adam and Eve no longer naked expulsed from the Garden of Eden. Humankind – now fallen – continues to fare poorly in the “being human” quest as it wanders aimlessly in its new East of Eden home.
Humankind’s fall from grace and its grappling with the enduring question, “Are We Human,” is the subject – the main subject – of Ice Factory 2016’s/Universal Bellows’ new play of the same name currently playing at The New Ohio Theatre.
In the play, those in power – led by Mr. Algorithm (Bradford Cover) strive to keep down the android revolution and maintain the superiority of the “humans.” Ethan (Matthew Bretschneider) and Violet (Alexandra Lemus) lead the charge to save the androids and bring down Mr. Android. Are they prophets? Saviors? There is much soteriology in the script as well as allusions to Broadway shows, songs, and other cultural ephemera. One also needs to be wary of “that man behind the curtain” who poses as the Creator. It is all quite complicated – not complex – and often abstruse. Too much esoterica a good play does not always make.
John Kaplan’s “Are We Human” feels like an Integrated Feeling Therapy session and there is nothing wrong with that. At its best, “Are We Human” is an allegory that focuses on the racial divide in the United States. Unfortunately, this important focus fades in the matrix of themes playwright Kaplan chooses to address. Why would such an important theme be shuffled with concerns about the relevance of theatre or the fourth wall? When the play does manage to refocus, nothing new is offered. The haves, the privileged, the “humans,” the ones for whom the almighty algorithm has been designed oppress the have nots, the androids, the ones who merely “serve” the almighty algorithm. The trope – here the extended metaphor – is clear.
What is not clear is how the extended metaphor supports the play’s themes. Just as a workable algorithm leads to the solution of complex problems. So should tropes lead the audience to a satisfying and cathartic resolution of conflicts. Despite the work of the talented cast and the efforts of director Margarett Perry, “Are We Human” leaves the audience hoping for more. In addition to those mentioned earlier, the cast includes James Davies (Bartender), Karl Gregory (Guy) and Alex Sunderhaus (Rosy).
David Arsenault’s off-kilter sci-fi set is brilliant. Jon Levin’s expensive props, although easy on the eye, often fail to work properly at the most unfortunate times. See the information below for the complete Ice Factory 2016 program.
ARE WE HUMAN
The cast of “Are We Human” features Matthew Bretschneider, Bradford Cover, James Davies, Karl Gregory, Alexandra Lemus, and Alex Sunderhaus. The creative team includes David L. Arsenault (scenic and lighting design), Amanda Aiken (costume design), Nate Goebel (sound design), and Jon Levin (prop design). Katy Moore is production stage manager. Production photos by Benjamin Heller.
Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7pm. Tickets are $18, and $15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For info visit NewOhioTheatre.org, like on Facebook at /NewOhioTheatre and /IceFactoryFestival, follow on Instagram at NewOhioTheatre, and for up-to-the-minute festival updates follow on Twitter at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time 100 minutes without intermission.