Savvy computer users know that Ctrl+Alt+Del is an important three-key combination that you press — to cut your losses — when things go wrong. You press it once to end a program that is not responding to commands or twice to shut down and restart a computer that is out of control.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is the catchy title of Live Wire Theatre’s rendition of Blue Monday Productions’ world-premiere presentation of a new R-rated multimedia experimental drama written by Joe Brack and Rus Hames, with additional material extracted and rearranged from the notebooks of Richard Foreman and additional text written by Anthony Hughes and Stella Duffy. However, the relevance of this familiar keystroke combination to the actual play on view Oct. 28-Nov. 12 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC is hard to fathom.
On one level, Ctrl+Alt+Delete, which is subtitled “A Meditation on Modern Life,” seems to be a retelling of the biblical story of Creation from the Book of Genesis, rewritten for the Information Age, with a powerful lead programmer — Strange Man (Anthony Hughes) — substituting for the Old Testament Jehovah. Instead of creating human beings in his image, Strange Man is creating androids (i.e., robots with human appearances); but his faulty designs doom his creations to failure and misery. Yet he labors on and on and on, intoxicated by the challenge of creation and oblivious to the unfortunate results of his experiments.
If it weren’t for all those stitches, a la Dr. Frankenstein’s monster in the movie Frankenstein, Joe (Joe Brack) — Strange Man’s most lifelike creation to date — might pass for human — in the darkest part of a bar, right at closing time. But Dream Woman (Merrybelle Park), the biomechanical mate that Strange Man devises for Joe, is a patchwork creature a la the title horror of the movie Bride of Frankenstein. Moreover, the attempted assignations between Joe and Dream Woman are disastrous. Despite graphic precoital demonstrations of assorted sexual positions by He (Thaddaeus Edwards) and She (Betzi Hekman), two puppet-like creations, Joe can never figure out how to insert Part A into Slot B of Dream Woman.
Joe’s sole abortive attempt at foreplay sends him into a swivet. Indeed, his failure to couple with Dream Woman propels him into a downward spiral. He howls in frustration, he screams, he suffers monstrously, and he becomes obsessed with self-mutilation, like Monologue Man (Daryl Stephenson), one of Strange Man’s earlier creations who is apparently missing both hands.
In two and a half hours, including an intermission, playwrights Joe Brack and Rus Hames create a bleak landscape where the highest expression of “love” among Strange Man’s creations is a series of crude simulated copulations, performed by fully clothed androids. In addition, Ctrl+Alt+Delete is a talky play, punctuated by some awesome visual projections, suggestive voiceovers, and simulated online chat. But, to me, Ctrl+Alt+Delete is not very profound and it is not very poetic. The play’s half-baked ideas, like the seriously flawed androids created by Strange Man, are underdeveloped and ultimately doomed to disappoint. You could say that their own built-in design flaws spell their doom.
Joe Brack, who designed the show’s set, costumes, and props, is an incredible artist. But the characters and the dialogue that he and fellow playwright Rus Hames create for Ctrl+Alt+Delete are fragmentary. The plot is sketchy, and the scenes are episodic. Ultimately, watching Ctrl+Alt+Delete is like watching a bad science-fiction film on TV, except you can’t change the channel or turn off the television set.
Brack does a good job in depicting Joe’s torment as an android that doesn’t quite have the “necessities” required to pass for human; Merrybelle Park is wonderfully weird as the helpmate who can never quite help get her “mate” in the mood for love; Daryl Stephenson is appropriately creepy as Monologue Man; and Thaddaeus Edwards and Betzi Hekman provide comic relief as He and She, a pair of primitive androids who wrestle with relationship issues that have baffled humans for eons. But Anthony Hughes is never quite convincing as Strange Man. He acts more like a Mr. Goodwrench for androids than a mad scientist with a God complex, intent on creating a new race of biomechanicals.
If only this episodic show were as good — even half as good — as Joe Brack’s storyboards, Ctrl+Alt+Delete would be a hit. As it is, this “Meditation on Modern Life” is too dark, too fragmented, and too obscure in many of its points to be completely satisfying.
Live Wire Theatre presents a Blue Monday Productions presentation of Ctrl+Alt+Delete Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 3-5, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 6, at 3 p.m.; and Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 9-12, at 8 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $14. 919/749-5020. Live Wire Theatre Company: http://www.livewiretheatre.com/id16.html [inactive 11/06]. Blue Monday Productions: http://www.bluemonday123.com/BM123_2005-08_v1_files/Page326.htm [inactive 9/06]. Richard Foreman’s Notebooks: http://www.ontological.com/.
Live Wire Theatre will present a Blue Monday Productions presentation of Ctrl+Alt+Delete — the world premiere of a new multimedia experimental drama written by Joe Brack and Rus Hames, directed by Hames, designed by Brack, and produced by Scott Franco — Oct. 28-Nov. 12 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC. The ground-breaking play, subtitled “A Meditation on Modern Life,” includes rearranged material from the notebooks of Richard Foreman and additional text by Anthony Hughes and Stella Duffy.
Live Wire Theatre Company is a Raleigh, NC-based educational theater company, co-founded in 2004 by Scott Franco et al. Blue Monday Productions was co-founded in Chattanooga, TN in 1992 by Rus Hames, Stella Duffy, and Anthony Hughes.
Rus Hames says, “Work on Ctrl+Alt+Delete … began about two years ago; however, its history and the material from which it sprang go back even further. The material used as the base for the production came from three preexisting sources: [my play] Bondage — A Cabaret (1995), Time of Mine by Joe Brack (2001), and the notebooks of Richard Foreman (1990-2005).
“As a director and writer,” Hames explains, “I had been experimenting with the cabaret form. The first such experiment was called Love — A Cabaret, performed at Barking Legs Theatre in Chattanooga, TN, which consisted of various scenes from preexisting plays (Sexual Perversities in Chicago, Romeo And Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, The Rainmaker, The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, etc.).”
He adds, “This same concept was used again in Bondage — A Cabaret, developed and performed at New York University, this time with original monologues and dialogues. The third [original] production was called Eclectic Love Songs, performed at The Interlude Theatre in New York City ….”
Hames says, “Anthony Hughes [who plays Strange Man in Ctrl+Alt+Delete] performed in all of the aforementioned productions…. Ctrl+Alt+Delete, unlike most of these earlier experiments, weaves the disparate text into a single world to create an entirely new play, a single universe. The material was edited and culled together, developed through traditional and experimental theatrical exercises.
Rus Hames claims, “A quote from Richard Foreman’s website [http://www.ontological.com/] best illuminates the process:
“‘The relationship [of the text] is not narrative — but loosely thematic — in a very poetic sense — even in simply an ‘intuited’ way. Often — I can not explain why — simply that one page seems interesting in a yet undefinable [sic] way, if juxtaposed to other selected pages.
“‘When I have forty to fifty pages, I consider this the basis. I then arrange the pages in search of some possible loose thematic ‘scenario’ — which again, is more ‘variations on a theme’ rather than strictly narrative. I look to establish a ‘situation of tension’ — then imagining how the other pages somehow augment and ‘play with’ that situation, rather than leading to story and resolution.
“‘Imagining a loose scenario, I re-write a little for continuity, then assign lines to imagined characters — and eventually have a play.’”
Ctrl+Alt+Delete playwright/director Rus Hames says, “I wanted to direct/create this piece because this is the kind of theater I want to see — something that utilizes all of the strengths of the theater and is exciting, vital, and new. While film is far superior in relating a naturalistic story, the immediacy of theater offers the opportunity to more fully experiment with form and function. A gesture or image can have far greater impact when it occurs in real time and space with a live audience.”
Hames describes the plot of Ctrl+Alt+Delete as “Frankenstein meets Pinocchio. Because of the unorthodox nature of this production,” he claims, “that Hollywood-esque pitch probably best sums up the gist of this production. That said, here we go[:]
“… Joe (Joe Brack) doesn’t know he isn’t human. He is, in fact, one of many creations brought to life by Strange Man (Anthony Hughes). Increasingly unable to deal with the real world, Strange Man has created these bio-anamorphic mechanicals in an attempt to relate to/understand the outside world,” Hames says. “The arc of the play is twofold: Joe’s discovery that he is not human and Strange Man’s confrontation with the age-old tale of man playing god.”
Hames adds, “Strange Man can no longer even touch another human being. He, therefore, tries to create a surrogate to overcome his psychosis. His first creation is Monologue Man (Daryl Stephenson). Needless to say, Monologue Man fails as a surrogate, yet is left with the sexual desires programmed in him without any useful outlet. He ends up being the ‘dirty old man’ of the bunch, but also the most intellectually attuned.”
Rus Hames says, “Joe is easily the most advanced of Strange Man’s creations — so advanced, in fact, as to believe himself to be human. He is the focus of the story as he slowly begins to realize he is not, in fact, human.
“Strange Man’s latest creation is Dream Woman (Merrybelle Park),” Hames explains. “The idea behind her is that somehow Strange Man has captured the core/essence of woman, but is unable to surround that core with the mechanisms to process that powerful core. It is her introduction into the world that begins Joe’s journey towards self-discovery and self-destruction.
“Finally,” Hames says, “we have He (Thaddeus Edwards) and She (Betzi Hekman). These two were built in tandem and are the simplest creations of the bunch. Used primarily as teaching tools for Joe and Dream, they happily run the routines that they have been programmed to run, only occasionally having the freedom to experience a spontaneous event.”
In addition to producer Scott Franco and playwright/director Rus Hames, who doubles as the show’s lighting designer, the production team for Ctrl+Alt+Delete includes playwright/set and costume designer Joe Brack, sound designer Adam Sampieri, and stage manager Gisele Alvarez.
“As rich and complex as this piece is,” says Rus Hames, “I have never enjoyed a project as much as I have enjoyed this one. It is the culmination of many years of experimentation and exploration. Because of how this piece was created, using disparate texts and working with Joe Brack on new text and images — each feeding the other — the range of ideas, events, and images was far reaching.
Hames says, “The biggest challenge was taking all of this material and trying to create a recognizable arc for the audience to follow. For while there is a clear rhythmic and thematic structure, the narrative structure was the most difficult construct. I will be very curious as to how it will be received and if the story that is now very clear in my mind translates to the audience. (It will, undoubtedly, not be as clear as it is to me; but I think there is enough of a structure for it to feel like a cohesive story.)”
Live Wire Theatre presents a Blue Monday Productions presentation of Ctrl+Alt+Delete Friday-Saturday, Oct. 28-29, at 8 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 3-5, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 6, at 3 p.m.; and Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 9-12, at 8 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $14. 919/749-5020. Live Wire Theatre Company: http://www.livewiretheatre.com/id16.html [inactive 11/06]. Blue Monday Productions: http://www.bluemonday123.com/BM123_2005-08_v1_files/Page326.htm [inactive 9/06]. Richard Foreman’s Notebooks: http://www.ontological.com/.