Robot drama

Uncanny Valley

“Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto, for helping me escape.”

“Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto, for helping me escape.”

Photo by Charr Crail

Rated 4.0

There’s long been a fascination of human beings melding with technology, from Frankenstein to Blade Runner to the more recent Her. The challenge always seems to come down to the philosophical quandary of what constitutes the essence of being human. These science-fiction stories center around the fact that you can insert data and knowledge into a human-like receptacle, but duplicating human response, emotion and humanity is the ultimate challenge.

And that’s at the heart of Thomas Gibbons’ Uncanny Valley, which is Capital Stage’s 10th-season closer and the last to be directed by departing Artistic Director Jonathan Williams.

Neuroscientist Claire (Jessica Powell) is retiring and her last project is a big one: augmenting the consciousness, data and memories that have been downloaded into the robotic duplication of a dying multimillionaire Julian (Michael Wiles) whose plan is to stay alive through his mechanical man-made twin.

Uncanny Valley is staged so that we witness the physical creation of Julian—first as a head, then as his limbs are added and the “human” slowly emerges, an acting challenge that Wiles nails. Equally strong is Powell’s depiction of Claire, whose main job is to teach expressions, gestures, feelings, actions, reactions and maybe a conscience to a static robot, while trying not to get emotionally involved in the man she’s helping to create.

Of course, besides the technical and ethical issues, we get subplots that move the story along including Julian and Claire’s back stories as well as their current personal challenges and dilemmas. There are some frustrations with the play—most notably a plot line regarding Claire’ mysterious daughter, where a resolution seems to be promised throughout, but never comes to fruition. However, we do get enough fascinating and absorbing issues overall to provide much fodder for after-theater discussions and debates.