Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Excellent Acting Helps a Confused BOT
C. Michele Kaplan's BOT tries to cover too much ground in the over-laden agenda of this dramatic piece. It certainly helps if you know something about biological altruism and technological acceleration. That alone can scare off the average theatregoer. There is a lot of discussion about nanotechnology, computers and robotics by 17-year-old Charlie, played exceedingly well by senior high school student Jonathan Rosen. Charles is a real loner whose only friend is a computer image of himself. He is building a computer, also named Charlie, which will be much smarter than any human being. As the computer Charlie says, "I've learned to speak the human tongue in four months where it took the real Charlie years to speak a language."
The human Charlie is so smart that he can't stand human beings any longer. His parents are litigators for corporations and in a loveless marriage. Stephen (Steve Irish) seems to take every designer drug on the market, and Janey (Julia Brothers) is a Manhattan socialite who is executive director of Access to Justice. They have no idea what Charlie is up to in his room with enough computers to launch a space probe.
BOThas enough subplots loaded with issues to fill several full plays. As a result, this play never gels, with only 90 minutes to flesh out the characters. Stephen is carrying on a scorching affair with his secretary Mella (Karen Aldridge), who is also taking designer drugs. Stephen is currently on Ritalin and takes one hell of a lot of Viagra for a middle-aged man. There is another sub-plot involving white South African internationally known author Ian (Dan Hiatt), who has romantic or sexual intentions for a young documentary filmmaker, Clara (Juliet Tanner). The result of all of this packed into a tight little package is that the drama is manufactured and forced. It just does not flow smoothly.
The small core of excellent actors under the helm of director Chris Smith rise above the mundane script. Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Rosen has wonderful charisma in the difficult role of Charlie, who tries to explain biological altruism and technological acceleration to a confused audience. Rosen gets an A+ for acting and should be someone to watch as he continues on the acting track.
Dan Hiatt (Best Supporting Performance SFBATCC award for The Immigrant in 2006) is excellent, with a nice South African accent, while once again Julia Brothers (Moving Right Along, Long Christmas Ride Home) gives a polished performance as the Manhattan socialite Janey. Her last speech to the audience about the human condition is splendid.
Steve Irish (Orson's Shadow, The Gamester, Lillies) gives a commanding performance as the pill-popping litigator. Karen Aldridge (Permanent Collection, The Raft) has good acting chops as the sensual Mella. Juliet Tanner (member of the Crowded Fire Company) is very good in the small role of the first-time filmmaker trying to make a film about an Afghan refugee resettled in New York.
Director Chris Smith has devised an excellent production based on the hard to grasp script by giving the audience fast, sharp scenes. The uncomfortable cocktail scene with Stephen, Janey and Ian is very good, especially the silent pauses among the three. Robert Broadfoot has devised an excellent two-level set with the cluttered room of Charlie and his computer screens on the upper level. The production design is a collaboration with UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance and the Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center.
BOT plays in repertory with Pain + Pleasure and Rust through April 1st at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D, Laguna at Marina Blvd, San Francisco. For tickets for all three events please call 415-441-8822 or online at www.magictheatre.org.