This adaptation of Chekhov’s play, featuring memorable human and robotic performances, makes poignant political commentary.
|Juliet Brett and John McGinty in The Orchard. Photo by Pavel Antonov.|
$20-50; New York, NY; Through Sept 26
|Photo by |
I dial 646-694-8050 and hear the following message: “Thank you for calling the Utopian Hotline. We are collecting anonymous responses to help us build a better tomorrow. At the tone, please respond to the question: How do you imagine a more perfect future?”
After doing my best in summarizing my entire life philosophy in an elevator pitch, I hang up, my fingertips buzzing. Will somebody ever hear this? Will my message to the future be received? (Of course, I, like most other human beings, do tend to think about the future and have an opinion on how to make it better for everybody.)
Two years ago, Theater MITU, a Brooklyn-based company, set up a public telephone hotline as a part of the research for a new show. Those messages, as well as conversations with astronauts, astronomers, futurists, and middle school students, have become the source material for Utopian Hotline., a vinyl record and live performance.
Up to twelve audience members are invited to enter MITU580, the company’s studio, after removing their shoes. A lush pink carpet generously embraces my happy toes as I make my way to one of the round, white cushions placed around the perimeter of the black box theatre. There is a long, low table in the middle of the room with an array of telephones, tape records, vinyl record players, and microphones neatly assembled on it. An elongated projection screen hovers above the table, emanating a soft glow.
The aural components of Utopian Hotline. make it to the audience through headphones. Four femme performers dressed in white jumpsuits and yellow socks sing and deliver monologues through microphones and telephone receivers. Like operators on a space station, they move around the table with graceful precision, connecting and disconnecting recorders and record players. The performance is woven from songs, messages from the hotline callers, philosophical reflections on the nature of time, and personal memories.
Part sci-fi call center, part group therapy for those who long to connect, Utopian Hotline. is a meditative and soothing experience. The collage-like narrative takes the audience into the mind of a dyslexic person and to outer space, where the Voyager’s Golden Record is drifting alone in the dark, among other places. But the journey feels safe. And the haptic elements of the show’s design hold my body, much like the 21 layers of NASA’s first space suit held the early astronauts. From the soft touch of the playfully pink carpet to the comforting hug of the headphones, everything feels so calming that I don’t want to leave after the 45-minute performance is over.
The pressing immediacy of public and personal matters over the past two years has continued to knock many of us off our feet. But holding onto a sense of community and fixing our gaze upon the future helps us rise. This notion is what Utopian Hotline reminds us of: curiosity and care are inherent to humans as a species, and no matter what we are going through, we can always count on them. As Stephen Hawking puts it, the objects are not trapped in black holes forever. And “if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up, there is a way out.”