Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Do you like plays set in the present day? Do you like large comic conventions? Are you in the mood to see a show that gets massive points for originality? Then run, don’t walk, to South Coast Repertory’s World Premiere showing of Eliza Clark’s Future Thinking. This show is a garden of comedy with seeds of tension and drama strewn about somewhat haphazardly. I believe these seeds are meant to grow into trees of thought. Mission accomplished, this play makes us think. Although the characters are funny and the story is an original one, the thought-provoking “moral” can be construed as either unnecessary or unnecessarily prevalent. Even with this consideration in mind, there’s no denying that Future Thinking is a treat to watch.
There are two central plots in Future Thinking. The first is about a fifty one year old comic convention fan named Peter being held in an interrogation room (of sorts) by an overly zealous security guard named Jim who has an almost fanatical sense of pride. Per the usual customs, Peter is dressed to the nines in all his geeky costumed glory. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like his fun fantasy day will be quite what he had in mind, as Peter has recently (and seemingly unknowingly) violated a restraining order placed against him by an actress who is appearing at the convention to sign autographs –hence his imprisonment by the nutty security guard. In a different but related storyline, the object of his affection is twenty-three year old actress Chiara, and she is just sick and tired of being treated like a non-entity by her overbearing mother and security guard. The storylines eventually intertwine with all parties comically, albeit desperately, wanting things that they do not have.
First the easy part –the set for this show is absolutely perfect. The setting for the story is simple enough with both plots taking place in the same hotel, just in different rooms. Our stage rotates, with lighting and transitional music occurring to set the mood. The hotel rooms are detailed and visually aesthetic, so you truly feel as though you are in a hotel. Although I initially felt the brief music playing during transitions was unnecessary, I’ve since changed my mind. Yes it’s true that sometimes the music can be a bit too dramatic, but it gives you something to listen to while the play is changing track, and the deep drumbeats correspond well to the idea of “the future.” The word future is of course in the title, but it’s representation throughout the show is a bit more subtle.
One of the main questions in the story is whether it is best to live in the present moment with “realistic” expectations of life or to strive for something more, different, and seemingly out of reach. By itself this is an interesting question, but in the context of the show it seems more “oh-by-the-way” than anything else. Mostly it seems to serve as a propeller for the humorous moments in the story. There were a few gems of thought buried throughout though–in regards to how to stave off the desire to commit suicide, one character suggested that one just consider the fact that “you’re gonna die someday [so why rush things?]”. In contrast we have the richly developed adventures of Peter (played by Arye Gross as a sad and lonely shmuck), who is a real person making some extremely poor decisions with his life. This isn’t really up for debate–the man is emotionally if not mentally unwell, but because Chiara (played by Virginia Vale) is also emotionally if not mentally unwell, he is treated much more leniently by our perceptions of him. Is the question whether or not you should send your bodily fluids to famous performers? I don’t really think that’s something many people find acceptable. On a deeper level it could be an inquiry into our fascination with “celebrities,” fantasies, and being someone that you are not. But the result of this mental exploration is really not that poignant. “People always want what they don’t have”…and? Please don’t let this deter you though–the fun parts in the show are definitely worth your time, it’s just that the serious moments seem to think they are more important than they really are. Two different storylines are running, but there isn’t really a competition for best plot. Both are entertaining and interesting in their own right.
Enver Gjokaj, whose expressions and timing as security guard Jim Barnard cannot be understated. His performance is absolutely seamless. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but dialogue is delivered stiltedly ever so often, as well as clearly being in need of some extra warm-up time. Once the show has been running for 20 minutes or so everyone seems to be on the same page.
Future Thinking is elaborate, modern, and entertaining. This is actually one of the few shows that I have ever seen where the pop-culture references (Comic Con) didn’t feel forced. The movement is natural, and the jokes are fun while the both plots are woven together well and keep your attention throughout.
March 25 – April 24, 2016
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