Saturday, November 07, 2009

What Once We Felt

"What Once We Felt" presented by LCT3 at The Duke, November 7, 2009

(photo from LCT Web site)

Lincoln Center Theater opens its season of LCT3 with a new play by Ann Marie Healy. This tale of a future feminist dystopian society in the midst of the "Transition" leaves as many questions unanswered as it asks.

(Spoiler Alert)

Positioned as a memory play, it is narrated by Violet (Ronete Levenson), the very last of the Tradepacks who worked as a comforter to other Tradepacks who have elected suicide to end their dismal and unproductive lives. Ms. Levenson's monotonous delivery only emphasized that her role added little to the story-telling. She sets the stage for the tale of Macy (Mia Barron), a struggling novelist who is trying to get her latest work published, the last book ever published in paper form. Macy is a "keeper," one of 70-80% of the population who are allowed freedoms and privileges not afforded to "tradepacks." Tradepacks seem to have some kind of physical or genetic flaw and have become a service caste, lesser and subservient to the keepers. In order to get her book published, Macy trades her only chance to "download" a baby to her publisher Claire (Opal Alladin), a tradepack, arranged by her agent Astrid (Ellen Parker).

Claire has masterminded the process of Digi-direct where data downloads have expanded to include DNA. Her assistant Laura (Marsha Stephanie Blake) then hijacks the book as propaganda for the next phase of the transition. Laura's goal with Macy's book is for it to be the first to include a fully virtual experience, extending for volumes of experiential downloads directly to reader's brains.

A cruel subplot of a tradepack who euthanizes her mother with a knitting needle struggles for counterpoint, along with a couple whose downloaded baby has an "error." The unseen and undefined RSS tighten security which will presumably reveal the child as a tradepack, doomed to a life of misery - Violet, perhaps?

With these elements of Faust, Orwell and Huxley, with a touch of "Handmaid's Tale" Ms. Healy packs a lot of plot into her script. If she'd spent a little more time on exposition and/or character development, she might not have needed so much plot. The unanswered questions abound: Where did the term Tradepack originate? Who started the Transition? Why are there no men anymore?

Ms. Barron suffers the most, finding little to play beyond the strident self-promotion of a self-doubting writer. Ms. Parker's Astrid has the most fun and a couple of great lines. Ms. Alladin never finds a third dimension to her character, despite the interesting concept of a tradepack "passing" in a keeper's world.

Perhaps it's a sexist reaction on my part, but I found it interesting that this high-estrogen package was assembled by a man, director Ken Rus Schmoll. Mr. Schmoll keeps things moving well with a thoughtful hand.

One nice thing about LCT3 productions are the high quality production values. The slick set (Kris Stone) and costumes (Linda Cho) evoke a future that's not terribly different from the present without falling into stereotype.

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