by Sergei Burbank · October 9, 2013
In Jeffrey Jackson’s Two Point Oh, Elliot Leeds (Jack Noseworthy) is a billionaire software designer whose plane crashes while in mid-argument (via teleconference) with his wife Melanie (Karron Graves). Melanie has only begun to plumb the depths of her grief when a mysterious package arrives: a disk with instructions in Elliot’s handwriting. Following them, Melanie activates what is perhaps Elliot’s greatest creation: a self-aware, software-based simulation of himself. Is this truly his final “gift” for Melanie (as the virtual Elliot insists), merely a clever toy (as Elliot’s estranged business partner Ben Robbins [James Ludwig] suspects), or something far more powerful -- and dangerous?
The script for Two Point Oh is at its strongest when it embraces its essence as an extremely clever logic puzzle that, like Elliot, asks questions without regard for how the answers might play out. It is less successful when it attempts to frame questions such as technology and the nature of life into the standard political-left-versus-political-right framework (truly, what audience hungers for more of that these days?). It is also shaky when it attempts to turn a techno-horror story into a more standard love triangle. (If the audience can predict when the line “It’s you, it’s always been you” is coming, that line -- and its whole ancillary conceit -- can probably go).
The text is truly revelatory when it charts Melanie’s journey, as her arrested grief transforms into true insight about the nature of her marriage -- sorting out the agency she unwillingly surrenders and, more importantly, the agency she willingly does.
“Technology is dehumanizing us. It’s making us fat, lazy, unable to think for ourselves.” In the opening lines of the play, Elliot mocks the Luddites who stand in the way of progress (and his company’s profits). The question we are forced to ask is whether “technology” stands as merely a byword for any external force we allow to subvert our free will and responsibility -- be it a gadget, a belief system, or simply another person.
The relaxed, capable cast is so deftly directed by Michael Unger that the audience is only dimly aware that given the dimensions of the space the actors have pretty much no physical place to go once onstage. Much is asked of Graves -- Melanie is never far from crisis or collapse -- and she delivers, making the most of her close proximity to the audience, selling the hook upon which the plot hangs: a believable love story between a grieving wife and a giant television screen.
There’s something plastic about Noseworthy’s Elliot Leeds, a character we only see on screen. An accomplished film and television actor, Noseworthy works intimately with the camera, his only scene partner. (Part of the fun is determining over the course of the evening whether his performance is recorded or live, and I certainly won’t ruin it for you.) Ludwig’s dry, caustic Ben Robbins is so delightful you might have a hard time believing him as a meek second fiddle to the dynamic Leeds. Antoinette LaVecchia relishes her role as a corporate cutthroat, and Michael Sean McGuinness underplays television pundit Jerry Gold for superior comic effect.
Kris Stone’s economical scenic design makes the most out of the intimate performance setting, with furniture and props that fit together like an intricate puzzle, and David Bengali’s media / projection design does some heavy lifting to create a believable world beyond the play’s stage.
There is something post-human about the entire production that extends beyond its virtual cast member. Despite the audience’s proximity to the actors, there is a cold distance between us all, and between the characters themselves. Perhaps that is merely a reflection of what constitutes humanity in the twenty first century (after all, a string of code and a flash drive serve as this production’s version of Chekhov’s gun; it doesn’t get much more contemporary than that):
MELANIE: Well, it’s not like we can, I don’t know … take a walk in the park together.
ELLIOT: Not true. I’ve got a mobile app. I was going to save it for Christmas, but … Pop it into your smartphone, anywhere you go, you can talk to me on a bluetooth headset and I can see through its camera. Boom.
MELANIE: So I walk around everywhere with a headset and my iPhone held out in front of me?
ELLIOT: Yeah. You should blend right in.
At the beginning of the play, we learn that Melanie and Elliot are working at conceiving a child; this is an effort that virtual Elliot wishes to continue. This type of techno-horror was a vein explored explicitly, strangely enough, thirty years ago in genre films such as Demon Seed (1977) and Saturn 3 (1980), but this script’s unwillingness to truly embrace its discomforting implications beyond pat humor (“I can’t imagine how that happens, but I think it would entail a risk of electrocution”) means that since the characters don’t take the plunge, we don’t either.
But ultimately, that’s Melanie’s lament: our willingness to keep others -- even our soul mates -- at arm’s length, to see relationships conducted on opposite ends of camera phones as normal. Her capitulation, accepting a partner she cannot touch, is a tragic surrender that is not without consequence. The fact that none of these consequences are profound or dangerous perhaps says more about our benumbed state than anything else could.