The (Curious Case of The) Watson Intelligence is not easy to follow. It’s a treatise devoted to man’s relationship to machines that spans centuries but plays out with commentaries on the human drive to be bigger and better through technology.
Director Libby Bakke admitted that during each reading of the play “my interpretation and understanding of the play changed.” There is so much skipping around in history – from discussions of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to allusions of the problematic nature of modern-day smartphones – and the use of technology that the play ultimately raises fundamental questions about the need and nature of artificial intelligence.
Can machines ultimately replace man or woman? That’s an existential question the 2-plus-hour play, running through next weekend at Reno Little Theater, explores. A jilted ex-husband (Merrick, played by James Mardock) sics a computer repairman on his ex-wife to spy her but, instead, the repairman falls in love with the ex-wife, Eliza. It’s a relationship ultimately fraught with imperfection, despite the initial promise of unending lust.
In another setting, Emilie Meyer, playing Eliza, mulls companionship with her android Watson (played by Adriano Cabral) and how imperfect he, too, is as a nonplussed robot triggered not by emotion and nuance but by an unnatural and binary, if-this-then-that logic (think Star Trek “The Next Generation’s” Data).
The play ultimately seems to say that our machines are unsatisfying human replacements. Despite the complex and conflict-ridden relationships among humans, how we commune with machines raises existential questions about whether, in fact, we endlessly glue our eyes to our smartphones as a way to strive for higher connectivity with one another but through the illusion of an HD screen.
Technology advances faster than we can mentally comprehend. At the end of the day, people need people, but machines present a clever and effective diversion from this reality. The ex-husband, Merrick, even spouts his desires to reduce his ex-wife into a perfect, non-confrontational automaton rather than the complex, intelligent, and emotional human she, like the rest of us, is.
The acting is superb, a characteristic of Reno Little Theater productions; as well, the set design is unchanging and gorgeous, capable of serving settings from the 1800s through our modern era.
The (Curious Case of The) Watson Intelligence transcends millennia while questioning man’s relations to machine, but where the dialogue is meant to go is a bit illusory. For this reason, it wasn’t my favorite RLT production; indeed, it’s more the playwright Madeleine George’s issue. I found, rather, that the dialog appeared to want to explore varied and complex issues without directing viewers to be comforted by an easy-to-digest plot.
Perhaps that’s the thrust of The (Curious Case of The) Watson Intelligence: We’re so used to being captivated by tech to the point that we turn off our brains in favor of clicks, likes, and shares while the humanity in front of us plays out and yearns to be better understood.
That alone is an incredibly profound message. Getting there, though, takes some thought and time. Prepare to be challenged by this fantastic discussion.
Written by: Madeleine George
Directed by: Libby Bakke
- Adriano Cabral, Watson
- Emilie Meyer, Eliza
- James Mardock, Merrick
- Evening Showdates: 5/12, 5/17 (tt), 5/18, 5/19 @ 7:30 pm
- Matinee Showdates: 5/13*, 5/20 Dates @ 2:00 pm
(tt) = Thirsty Thursday- FREE drink with ticket purchase, PWYC denotes Pay-What-You-Can performance, * denotes post-show talk-back.
- Regular: $25
- Senior/Military: $20
- Student: $15