There's a first time for everything. This past weekend marked the first time I saw a play in which one of the main characters is a robot. You're going to have to trust me that it's not quite as strange as it sounds – it's Deep Dish Theater Company's production of Alan Ayckbourn's Henceforward…. So, R2-D2 doesn't take the stage, but two of the actresses share the role of a NAN300F, a robot originally designed to care for children.
The play, first produced in 1987, takes place in the "near future." However, Henceforward… now presents an antiquated notion of the future. It's an out-dated future in which much of the technology is a current reality, but some is yet implausible. Instead of being a period piece, if you will, in which the period is the future, it's more of an encapsulation of a vision of the future from 1987. It feels almost as if the audience is transported back to 1987 to see what folks then thought 2012 would hold.
The story revolves around Jerome (played by the well-rounded Mark Filiaci), who, in an effort to convince his ex-wife and the department of child well-being that he is a suitable parent for his daughter Geain (pronounced "Jane"), tries to hire an escort to pretend to be his fiancée. When that fails, he turns his robot into a replica of the escort. The robot is set to react to key words, and the reactions (both planned and unplanned) garner laughs. Jerome is a composer who creates music using "natural sounds," which he acquires by constantly recording the sounds in every room in his apartment.
Henceforward… marks the first time Ayckbourn melded science fiction with comedy. I find it difficult for me to formulate an appropriate opinion on the science-fiction aspects of the show, since sci-fi has never been my cup of tea. As a matter of personal preference, I tend to avoid the genre. That's not to say, however, that I wasn't able to relate to many aspects of the play and the production. I thought the characters (the human ones, at least) were relatable and represented some timeless themes, namely that of wanting what is best for one's child, and that of the challenge of parenthood. Some of the highlights of the show are the times when we get to see Jerome's hopeless friend Lupus via video phone. Though never actually appearing onstage, Gregor McElvogue (as Lupus) did an excellent job providing relatable comedy as the needy friend who calls at inopportune times.
In the end, it's the humanity, not the technology, that makes the show worthwhile. Henceforward… runs through May 19. For tickets and information, visit www.deepdishtheater.org.