Friday, October 15, 2010

My Thoughts on "Futura" at Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena

Tonight, I attended a performance at my beloved Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena of their new show, Futura.

As I was running a bit late (or so I thought!), I chose to take the freeway this time, and thankfully, it was a good idea. I made it to Pasadena in excellent time and was one of the first people to arrive. A friendly young guy whom I hadn't seen previously greeted me by name and handed me my ticket and program which was already prepared for me! This tickled me to no end and made me feel rather special! :)

As is my wont, I headed off to the restroom for a quick respite. In the middle stall, I was greeted with this hilarious sign courtesy of Boston Court Brian:

After examining all the "stall signs," this remained my favorite, but all of them were brilliant, and everyone was having extreme fun with them! As I was washing my hands, a woman in the stall on the end lustily burst into selections from The Sound of Music as her sign mentioned that one sounds best singing in the bathroom. Another woman's uncontrollable guffaws pealed out from her stall and echoed around the small restroom. This is such a brilliant and unique idea that really turns micturous monotony into flushing follies! (Sorry.) Brian tells me that he has more of these silly stall signs at the ready for the next production, and I can't wait to see them!

I settled into my favorite chair near the theatre door, and Brian came by to greet me warmly. He had told me that there was a "super secret gift" awaiting me at the theatre, which had piqued my interest greatly. When he produced this and unrolled it, I was excruciatingly delighted:

My friends, this is one of only ten posters the theatre had left of one of my favorite plays I've seen here in L.A., The Twentieth Century Way! These were the last remaining from the batch that was plastered all over New York City and the theatre saved one especially for me! I feel so honored owning this, and it now holds a special place on my living room wall. :) (Read my thoughts on TCW here and here).

After a friendly hello from Executive Director Michael Seel, I headed into the theatre and grabbed a seat in the second row.

Photo by Ed Krieger

Futura tells the story of a university professor (Bonita Friedericy) who speaks out against the new trend of online technology and the written word only existing on a computer screen. Physical books and libraries are a thing of the past, and the main source of information is a sole online "digital cloud" called The Collection. This data can be accessed and edited by anyone, which means that anything that is ever written - be it shopping lists, love letters, internal memos - can be read and changed by anyone else. Consider it like a massive wikipedia, which is forever expanding and changing into an ever evolving (or devolving) conglomerate of knowledge. Privacy is a thing of the past, as writing on physical paper has now been fully replaced by typed words on computer screens.

The first half of the play consists of the professor's fascinating thoughts on fonts, and their power as a "subtle science" that still retains the delicate artistry of physical words on paper. Text that still is able to be smudged by the human fingertip, and thus holds a key to the early beginnings of writing itself. She specifically mentions Paul Renner's innovative "futura" and relates how it is the only font ever to be copyrighted as a type of art. She goes into the interesting history of fonts, and how they helped to shape the thoughts on paper, bringing forth one of the last examples of the printed word on paper from her own private collection, a book of Milton's poetry. The professor touches on the controversial subject of what she deems the "Zero Drive," which she believes is a database or structure that houses all the original, still untouched and unedited texts of masterworks throughout the ages. (One is ever hopeful that if this Collection ever becomes reality, there is a "backup" of the originals somewhere.)

Interspersed between the lecture are the professor's increasingly manic asides related to her estranged husband's mysterious disappearance. As the play progresses, we discover that he may have been kidnapped or perhaps murdered by The Collective, a Fahrenheit 451-esque organization in charge of destroying all printed word and keeping everything digital and public.

Photo by Ed Krieger

As her rants become increasingly out of control, the stage falls into darkness and the professor is hustled away. After a brilliant set change, we discover that the professor's husband Edward (Bob McCracken) is indeed still alive, and working with two young vigilantes, Grace (Zarah Mahler) and Gash (Edward Tournier) who have kidnapped the professor to keep her out of harm's way. The professor's constant talk of a Zero Drive has warranted her unwanted attention from The Collective, who may want to destroy her because she is a threat to their existence.

Photo by Ed Krieger

Young Grace is a short fuse, who only wants to find the drive's whereabouts and will kill the professor to get it. Gash, who is in the process of devising a bomb to destroy the online Collection is more curious about words and the lost art of writing on paper, and soon develops a camaraderie with the older woman.

The play is surprisingly brief. I was just starting to relax into my seat, and it was finished, which startled me slightly, but Jordan Harrison's tight plot and dialogue creates a unique and fascinating concept for a story. Any "font nerds" will absolutely adore the professor's opening monologue and her quips and quibbles about various fonts. Being a writer and proofreader, I found myself nodding in agreement with much of the professor's diatribe on the lost art of writing on paper and reading actual books, especially as I scribbled away thoughts that would eventually become this post with a pen on a tiny pad of paper. (Suffice it to say, I did not enter Boston Court's contest to win an Amazon Kindle.)

Photo by Ed Krieger

I originally saw Ms. Friedericy in a reading of Ken Urban's "The Awake" which was part of Boston Court's PLAY/ground festival earlier this year. (Read my thoughts here) Any good Star Trek fan will also know she is the wife of John Billingsley who played Doctor Phlox on Enterprise.* John and Bonita's annual appearances at the German Fedcon science fiction convention are legendary and usually involve the removal of shirts...and sometimes pants, much to the audience's great delight...but I digress. Maybe it was an off-night, but there was much treading over dialogue and mumbled passages. She did very well as the professor overall, but this verbal fumbling really took me out of the play many times. Perhaps it was the briefness of the role that didn't give me a chance to fully see Ms. Mahler at work, but her acting felt a little forced and artificial, which (again) took me out of the play a little. Young Tournier was wonderful (and very cute!) as the bumbling, yet curious "mad scientist" bomb maker and McCracken was solid as the professor's gruff, estranged husband. The small quibbles I had with the acting didn't lessen my overall enjoyment of the play, and I'm keen to see it again, in hopes that this was just an "off night."

Myung Hee Cho's sets were absolutely astonishing, each one more ornate and beautiful than the last. When we first meet the professor, the stage is stark and bare - only a small podium with a jug of water and a glass and a massive touchscreen stand behind her. This touchscreen is a brilliant way of illustrating the way technology has overtaken the world in the play (and increasingly in reality!) as the professor used a special "cuff" on her hand to control the slideshow she used to illustrate her lecture. I was most fascinated by the third and final set, which served as the mysterious "Zero Drive" - a physical library of real books on massive shelves that arched high into the rafters. This was probably my favorite set I've ever seen at Boston Court thus far, and I spent a good deal of time examining its intricacies after the play had ended. I would love the chance to see it up close for myself, if at all possible.

Overall Futura is a bold and creative new idea for a play, and is executed with grace and sharp wit. I am seriously contemplating attending a second performance to see the sets again and fully immerse myself in the storyline anew.

Futura runs to November 2nd and tickets can be purchased here or at the Boston Court box office. If you're at all interested to see this show - even for its incredible sets - this Sunday is $5 Economic Stimulus day, so you have no excuse.

*During the initial scene after the professor is kidnapped, she is injected with a very Trek-looking syringe of truth serum. One wonders if this was "borrowed" from her husband's former workplace or a tiny nod to his time in the Trek universe. Hey, a Trek fan always finds references somewhere! ;)

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