Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Maybe it's not that big a leapwe're all destroyers, one way or another. The "singularity," of course, is a sort of anticipated computer messiah, which will bury us all in one vast grave, once it realizes its own supremacy. Here, the unexpected twist seems to be that a human being has somehow gotten there first: becoming a hybrid of computer intelligence, at the cost of every other human in his sphere (and quite a few far beyond it). But, after an initial burst of homicide, he (or it) has been contained.
In Mr. Ostermaier's 85-minute play, enjoying its first English translation and American premiere, Patrick Siler directs Alan Knoll in a one-man show that's sprawling and devilish and bizarre. But Mr. Knoll, one of the great uncommon threads on stage in local theater for the last forty-odd years, manages to be impish and horrifying and charming in ways that defy and uplift the story beyond all reason.
The playwright won the Bertolt Brecht Literary Prize in 2010, among other honors; and Upstream producer Philip Boehm wrote the English translation, which is elegant and outrageously funny. I mean, it's not a laff-riot that the stockbroker murders his family and therapist, in a sort of personal "downsizing" (which any corporate raider might understand, at least on paper). That's after the family house pets are abolished, one by one. And it's not hilarious that he has to be confined in a sort of "black box" container, sealed-off from the rest of us, or that he is switched "on and off" with injected drugs.
But, somehow, his being swallowed-up by the speculator's mindset, and the roar of computer data rushing through the markets into his brain, create an irresistible compulsion to the exclusion of all else. And his lapsing into manic explanations of everyone else's common investing mistakes, and the odd moments of smug delight at his own successes, are all pretty darned funny, in Mr. Knoll's kaleidoscopic performance.
The program notes say that director Patrick Siler observed commodities traders up close in Chicago in the 1990s, when he worked at an investment research firm. Thanks, perhaps, to all that secret note-taking, the hair-on-fire broker we see here has a brain like an antique lawyer's desk: with a hundred little drawers in it, and a manic, sometimes smirking explanation for everything that goes wrong in his life; and a chuckling disdain for everything that goes wrong in ours. His power is global and his trading in this country can destroy another nation's currency, or provoke violence in the streets on the other side of the planet. There are a million facets in this fast-paced performance.
But, as drawn here, the man is also nigh on to cherubic, like a naughty three-year-old, when he's not striving to be a Master of the Universe, even when it's all fallen apartmaybe simply because he pricked his finger with a paper clip, working at his computer. Maybe, somehow, that created a blood bond with the financial side of the internet. That was right before the firemen broke down the door, and he ended up in this box-like roomsurrounded by an audience observing him from behind their surgical face masks. The scientific process behind his transmogrification into a computer-enhanced god is never dwelt upon in words. But it's as good an operating system as any other, for his behavior, and for the show's themes of greed and cutthroat ambition, and for his dangerous struggle through to emerge from his own metamorphosis.
Through February 25, 2018, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Boulevard, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.upstreamtheater.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association