By Leora Rosenberg
Playwright August Schulenburg clearly doesn’t trust his audience to understand his newest play, “Deinde,” produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble as part of the BFG Collective. Hence the page long note at the beginning of the program, which discusses how increased contact with computers changes our essential humanity. “Memory, emotion, imagination, empathy,” he writes, “What will they look like when we can think directly into our beloved iPhones and iPads? What will iSapiens look like?”
In the play, awkward neuroscientist Daniel Nemerov unveils Deinde, his computer system that connects directly to human thought. He shows his technology to a team of scientists who are struggling to fight the unspecified (but conveniently frightening) virus decimating humanity. Nemorov explains that the system works safely so long as a few simple rules are followed, and the audience immediately figures out these rules will be ignored.
The plot is by no means groundbreaking, but the exposition drags out for a full twenty minutes, at least fifteen of which could have been cut from the two-hour play. Young scientists Mac and Jenni hop into a computer world that amplifies and sharpens their thoughts, but they emerge exhausted and unstable. Malcolm, an older scientist who refused to plug in, and Nabanita, the team leader, watch as the computer erodes Mac and Jenni’s basic humanity.
The story is entertaining though predictable, but one would expect that a play designed to answer the question, “What makes a human human and not just a chimpanzee in clothes?” might transcend its intellectual themes. Perhaps Schulenburg should have written Deinde as an essay, since even the characters’ love triangles, dying wives, favorite haikus, artist girlfriends, and thematically relevant discussions of Star Trek remain emotionally empty.
About halfway through the play, Jenni gets into an argument with her girlfriend that might have comprised the show’s emotional core. Instead, she deflects with “I can’t tell you because of national security,” and the audience remains unsatisfied. When Schulenburg does take a stab at emotional dialogue, he puts out hackneyed lines like, “Maybe it’s alright for us to be happy now.” With little good dialogue to work with, the actors are often reduced to yelling, pacing, and covering their faces.
Schulenburg asks the audience members to consider their own humanity. But even the smattering of nursery rhymes, meant to infuse the play with some heart, never quite help us reach that place of self-reflection.
“Deinde” is playing through Saturday, May 12 at the Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd Street, Long Island City. For tickets and more information, see fluxtheatre.org.
Leora is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.