by Robert Attenweiler · August 13, 2014
Science fiction doesn’t have a particularly storied history on the stage. The relative bareness of the actors in front of a live audience has made the fantastical imaginings of the genre more comfortable in the land of movie magic. But more and more theater writers – and, in particular, writers of independent theater – are embracing the character-focused opportunities of that genre in a theatrical context. “Sci-fi is about an idea that creates a world,” says Matt Bayer, the writer/director of the fun, touching, sci-fi double feature Some Are More Human, “and watching the characters react in that world.” Bayer quickly sets up his world and then gives the audience two, semi-connected one-act plays centered on two very different, but equally intimate, relationships that take place in it.
The world Bayer sets up is full of sci-fi staples: Mars is at war with the Earth. The people of Earth begin using intelligent android soldiers in their war against the Martians. These soldiers eventually turn on their human creators, causing the united Earth government’s President Vernon to outlaw all androids, though, by that point, many have learned how to live among humans undetected. The audience gets this set-up in a black and white TV address by Vernon at the top of the show.
The first act of live action opens on Tim and Grace busting through the door of Grace’s apartment in full just-met-at-a-bar make-out mode. We learn that preppy-looking Tim had to move from the upscale Island City to the fringe community, The Corners, when he lost his job in androids because of the government’s ban. But he bonds with the punky Grace over music and really good sex and, as the two get to know each other better, it becomes clear that both are carrying pretty big secrets. Tim, it turns out, is married, while Grace … well, Grace isn’t exactly human. A video interlude shows the audience that there are android hunters going around exterminating the remaining androids and one is hot on Grace’s tail. But the action back at Grace’s apartment is all about following one’s heart (or not).
The second act flashes back to earlier in the Earth/Mars conflict when humans were still using androids to track down and exterminate Martians still hiding in our midst. Nine-year old Julie Julia comes upon Kalep who, while looking like a nine-year old human child, is actually a Martian left behind on Earth. The two form a fast friendship by playing tag, talking about baseball and trading action figures. All the while, Julie assures the awkward Kalep that he can fit in. When he tries to attend one of Julie’s baseball games, however, he is spotted by an android tracker who won’t rest (literally) until the world is fully Martian-free.
Bayer sets up two stories with very clear stakes that could only happen in this world. I mean, how often do you have to worry that your late-night hookup might be an android who is being tracked down for extermination? Throughout the show, the theme of Some Are More Human that (can you guess?) the non-human characters might act more human than most of humanity in this world, is constantly and effectively returned to. Charly Bivona, as Grace, deftly balances her character’s outsider edge with the joy and fear of a young woman discovering love, and Robert Cernuda, as Kalep, makes his human body look like it feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar, driving home the idea of child as eternally awkward.
Bayer, along with DP Rima Brindamour and Video Editor, Greta Link, make a strong, effective series of projected video clips, allowing the audience a look at the world beyond the stage and the creators to nod toward sci-fi’s B-movie history.
For as effective as most of Some Are More Human is, it is ultimately held back by just how familiar and expected much of the world and its turns are. The audience suspects Grace is an android well before the revelation later in the play simply because, in this world, of course she would be. And the second act leans too heavily on the idea that children (from all worlds) are blind to difference and everything can be solved by playing games together. Now that he’s comfortable with the broad strokes of the genre, I’d be interested in seeing Bayer use sci-fi conventions to tell stories that are more specific, unique and surprising.
Overall, though, Some Are More Human is a strong new addition the exciting sub-genre of science fiction theater.