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Futura

Futura
Bonita Friedericy
About eight years ago, I reviewed a production of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 which had purportedly been updated to modern times. I had issues with the script for its failure to actually address the relevant modern innovations of books stored on disc or online. Since then, one might argue, the situation has become even better for the distribution of the books, with the introduction of the Kindle and applications that enable us to read books on our cell phones. Enter playwright Jordan Harrison, who views these technological advances with caution, and thinks the future might not be so rosy for books after all. His new play Futura is what I'd hoped for eight years ago, a Fahrenheit 451 for the digital age.

It begins with a premise that Bradbury may have overlooked—that there is a value to physical books beyond the words themselves. Futura makes the case for the art of typography, explaining (through the means of a college lecture) the contribution of the font itself to the relationship between author and reader. Obviously, words are not immediately conveyed directly into the brain of someone reading; the words go through one's eyes, and the font helps or hinders them along their journey. The lecture that opens Futura shows, through historical examples and visual aids, the importance of typography. By the time the lecture ends, you may find yourself thinking that, much in the same way the invention of movable type heralded the end of the art of illuminated manuscripts, the digitization of books and newspapers is killing the art of typography, and we aren't even noticing the loss.

But Futura isn't just about the loss of typography; it takes place in a totalitarian dystopia where many more things have been lost. The beauty of Futura is that it doesn't explain how we reached this place in one gigantic information dump. Instead, bits and pieces come floating out, naturally, in the course of the lecture. So when the professor takes out a sheet of paper, protected in plastic, and holds it up for her class to see as a precious relic from a not-too-distant past, we know there's much more going on here than just fonts. And while it doesn't take too much imagination to envision how a society where all communication is digital can evolve into a society where no communication is private, Futura keeps us engaged by taking place in a society where certain bizarre things are taken for granted, and leaves us, at least initially, to figure out how we got there from here. (Indeed, one thing—the fact that, despite the worldwide availability of all books online, people still have trouble reading from an actual book—is not explained until the very last scene.)

But Futura isn't simply a cautionary tale about Kindles, Wikipedia and e-communication. For there is a revolution of sorts going on in the world of Futura, a resistance striking out for the primacy of the original printed word. And when the professor's lecture is cut short just as she's starting to talk about something she shouldn't, we meet some of the people living off the grid, and Futura becomes a debate about how a revolution should properly progress—how to reach hearts and minds, and to what extent you should compromise when you're the only one left fighting for your principles.

As expected at the Theatre @ Boston Court, production values are solid, with particularly nice work from Hana Sooyeon Kim's projections for the opening lecture and Myung Hee Cho's set (which outdoes itself in the final scene). Bonita Friedericy leads the four-person cast as the Professor, a middle-aged woman who has suffered at the hands of the governing corporate regime, and has lost just enough to engage in a little open rebellion. It's the Professor's play, and Friedericy carries it perfectly, pulling us into her typography lesson with the Professor's passion for the subject and, later, bringing her full orneriness to the subject of the revolution. The supporting cast is solid, with Edward Tournier as a young man who represents the blank page of the future, and Bob McCracken coming off as particularly human in a role that initially seems like anything but.

Futura is a smart play, but not a difficult one. It raises hard questions, but respects its audience enough to not have easy answers for them. Although the ultimate ending of the play is itself predictable (after the actions in the penultimate scene), there is no pat solution offered to any of the problems posed. This feels right—Futura doesn't necessarily want us to log off and return to hard copy libraries; but it does succeed at making us stop and think about what we risk losing, as we eagerly embrace every new technology.

Futura continues at the Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena through November 7, 2010. For tickets and information, see www.bostoncourt.com.

The Theatre @ Boston Court presents Futura by Jordan Harrison; Directed by Jessica Kubzansky. Scenic Design Myung Hee Cho; Lighting Design Jaymi Lee Smith; Sound Design & Music Composition John Zalewski; Costume Design Leah Piehl; Projection Design Hana Sooyeon Kim; Properties Design Shannon Dedman; Fight Choreography Caleb Terray; Assistant Director Kevin Shewey; Production Stage Manager Maggie Goddard; Casting Director Julia Flores, CSA; Key Art Christopher Komuro.

Cast:
The Professor - Bonita Friedericy
Gash - Edward Tournier
Grace - Zarah Mahler
Edward - Bob McCracken

Photo by Ed Krieger


- Sharon Perlmutter






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