By Thomas Gibbons
Directed by caryn desai
Susan Denaker, Jacob Sidney
Scenic Design: Tesshi Nakagawa
Costume Design: Kim DeShazo
Lighting Design: Donna Ruzika
Sound Design: Jeff Polunas
First Performance April 19, 2017
Opening April 21, 2017
Final Performance May 7, 2017
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What does it mean to be human? Playwright Thomas Gibbons explores the inherent unpredictability of consciousness, as well as ethical questions about our own mortality and how far we’ll go to live forever, in what The Washington Post describes as a “fascinating [and] cerebrally challenging” new play about artificial intelligence. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, a neuroscientist works closely with an artificial being to teach him how to become more human and to grow beyond the “uncanny valley” — a term used to describe the discomfort we feel when we see electronic recreations of human beings that are oh-so-close, but just not quite right.
Claire (Denaker) is a neuroscientist who has devoted her entire life to crafting a non-biological being. Her latest attempt, named Julian (Sidney), starts out as a head without a body. As Julian receives a torso, arms and legs and becomes fully functional, Claire tries to teach him how to become “human.”
The play was inspired by a National Geographic article that featured a photo of a sentient robot named Bina48 created by the LifeNaut Project.
“LifeNaut is investigating the possibility of downloading human consciousness into an artificial body as a means of extending our lifespan,” Gibbons explained in an interview. “Bina is basically a head and shoulders sitting on a table. I was really haunted by that photo.”
According to the playwright, the title “refers to the feeling that people have when they’re confronted with a very realistic robot, a feeling of fascination. But the more realistic the robot becomes, at some point that fascination turns to a kind of revulsion. They’re creeped out, and that effect is called the ‘uncanny valley.’ The play is exploring that moment.”