Entertainment » Theatre

Futurity

by Joe Siegel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Dec 11, 2018
Alexander Platt and Meg Sullivan in "Futurity" at the Wilbury Theatre Group through December 23.
Alexander Platt and Meg Sullivan in "Futurity" at the Wilbury Theatre Group through December 23.  

To sum it up best, "Futurity" is a musical for people who aren't fans of musicals. Anyone who dismisses musical theater as mindless fluff will find plenty to savor in Wilbury Theatre Group's powerful and intelligent production.

This is a show with an intriguing concept at its core: can machines create solutions to human problems?

The setting is America in the midst of the Civil War. Julian (Alexander Platt) is a reluctant soldier who teams up with mathematician Ada (Meg Sullivan) to create a super computer.

"War is a failure of imagination" according to Julian, who hopes the "Steam Brain" will exhibit "technological morality."

Meanwhile, Julian's fellow platoon members are tasked with dismantling the Confederate railroad on orders of the General (Jason Quinn), a stern and battle-hardened man who warns his troops of the bloodshed they will experience.

The music, which was composed by Cesar Alvarez (who also wrote the book) and The Lisps, is terrific. It's best described as a mix of alternative rock with a little bit of country thrown in. The cast plays their own instruments, which include guitars, banjos, flutes, and drums.

Julian and Ada sing about historical legends such as Copernicus and the author Mary Shelley in the charming ballad "Socrates."

One of the best songs is "The Meaning or The Medium."

"What's the animating force from which intelligence emerges, is it material in nature or a spiritual conversion?" Ada wonders.

The ensemble cast, which also features David Rabinow, David Carney, Nicholas Corey, Ava Mascena, Maggie Papa, Helena Tafuri, and Christine Treglia as the soldiers, are all skilled musicians and singers.

Platt and Sullivan are magnetic performers who create fully realized characters. Julian and Ada do not fall in love but they do join together for the betterment of mankind. They are both idealists and dreamers who remain optimistic about the future. What a refreshing development to have characters who have thoughts about more than just love or money! Like I said, this is a show for people who don't usually like musicals.

Quinn is also quite impressive here as a man who is willing to sacrifice his life to secure the freedom of the oppressed. Quinn has an impassioned speech about the inhumanity of slavery and turns in a spectacular vocal on "Still Walking."

Brien Lang, who also directed "Church," stages the action with tremendous style and imagination. At one point, Platt sits and sings among audience members. It's a joyful respite from the grim violence of the battlefield.

What's most remarkable is the way Lang uses music as a story-telling device, illuminating the tragedy of war as well as the fear and anger which rage inside these soldiers.

"Futurity" is highly entertaining but also invites discussion about the role of artificial intelligence in human decision making. Can computers bring about peace when men have repeatedly failed to do so?

Wilbury Theatre Group specializes in edgy and innovative work which takes chances. Here, the risk pays off in spectacular fashion.

"Futurity" is one of the year's best shows.

"Futurity" runs through December 23. Wilbury Theatre Group. 40 Sonoma Court, Providence. For tickets, call 401-400-7100. www.thewilburygroup.org

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.


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