Theater Review: Futura Is Now
Photo by Ed Krieger
"That's not writing," Truman Capote once complained about another popular author's book, "it's typing." Well, in Jordan Harrison's new play, Futura, set 35 years from now, typing is all there is. Paper has been made obsolete by the pixelated screen, and no one knows how to manipulate a pen or pencil. All available information and knowledge are stored in a central database maintained by an omnipotent syndicate known as The Company. Wisdom and insight are obscured by readers' freely shared annotations and comments.
The play opens with a half hour-long lecture explaining how the world got to this point, delivered by a nameless Professor (Bonita Friedericy) in front of a wall-sized interactive display screen. Initially an academic talk on the history of fonts and written communication, the Professor also tells us that her husband, an outspoken critic of The Company, was abducted and never seen again after he mobilized resistance to the eradication of writing and the digital centralization of textual discourse. Then, once her own talk has strayed a bit too far into threatening territory, the Professor herself suddenly disappears, and next thing we know she's being held blindfolded and strapped to a chair in an undisclosed location. Her captors are two young armed guards (Edward Tournier and Zarah Mahler)--who threaten to kill her unless she leads them to the "zero drive," a massive cache of written material still uncorrupted by The Company's all-engulfing Wikipediazation, which only she knows where to find--and their leader Edward (Bob McCracken).
Essentially an intellectual proposition dressed up as a thriller, Futura is rather more successful at thought-provoking than it is at thrilling. Harrison's dystopian vision of a world dominated by screens is disturbingly imaginable, and the fantastical yet familiar massive touchscreen, created by designer Hana Sooyeon Kim, which backs up the Professor's opening monologue immediately and compellingly ushers us into that almost-attractive world. Once the long first scene concludes, however, we enter into a more conventional 1984ish narrative of futuristic conflict between a dominant power and the small team of rebels who battle to maintain, if not restore, the lost freedoms now receding from society's general memory. And this part of the story is a bit too murky, and insufficiently character-driven, to sustain much interest.
Fortunately the production regains life at the end, thanks in large part to set designer Myung Hee Cho's beautiful rendering of the room where the Professor's "zero drive" has been kept hidden from the rest of the world. By the time we get here, only two of the play's characters are still with us. But now, in this final scene, in these surprisingly enchanting and magisterial surroundings, Harrison and the pair of remaining actors effectively kindle our belief that the suppressed arts of reading and writing may win out over the forces arrayed against them.
Futura plays Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through November 7, with additional performances on Monday, October 18, and Wednesday, October 20, at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena. $32 and $27 full price tickets on sale at ovationtix, $20 tickets for some performances available at lastagetix. $5 tickets at the door this Sunday, October 17. Free drinks in the lobby and other events after selected performances.